Keratin 9 (K9) is one of the components of the perinuclear ring of the manchette found in developing spermatids but is predominantly expressed in the epidermis of the footpad (palm and sole in human epidermis). As an initial step to determine the function of K9 protein in sperm development, we have generated a mutant mouse by homologous recombination of the targeting vector containing the disrupted K9 gene in which the neo(r) gene was inserted into the intron 6. This insertion resulted in the expression of two K9 mRNAs: a wild-type K9 mRNA, in which intron 6 with the neo(r) gene was completely spliced out, and a mutated form in which only a portion of the intron 6 between neo(r) gene and exon 7 was spliced out. While both heterozygous (K9(+/neo)) and homozygous (K9(neo/neo)) mutant mice expressed the wild-type form of K9 protein, the expression profile of the wild-type K9 in K9(neo/neo) mutants was modified. In addition, the open reading frame of the aberrant mRNA terminated at the exon 6/intron 6 splice site, resulting in a truncated K9 protein. Both K9(+neo) and K9(neo/neo) male mice displayed spermatids with ectopic manchette. Coiled tails were seen in maturing spermatids and epididymal sperm of mutant mice and sperm with deformed tails displayed forward motility. A predominant sperm anomaly was residual cytoplasm at the end of the mitochondria-containing middle piece tail segment. The residual cytoplasm displayed vesicles with random in situ motion, suggesting a transport impediment toward the distal end of the sperm tail. All mutant mice were fertile. Surprisingly, in oocyte nuclear injection experiments using K9(neo/neo) sperm donor, 76% of the resulting animals displayed a deletion of the neo(r) gene from the intron 6 of the mutated K9 allele. Results of this study support the view that intron 6 influences the transcriptional efficiency of the K9 gene by decreasing production of wild-type K9 and changing the expression of K9 proteins.
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