To identify genes required for mammalian spermatogenesis, we screened lines of mutant mice created using a retroviral gene-trap system for male infertility. Homozygous ROSA41 male mice exhibit sterility associated with progressive testicular degeneration. Germ-cell defects are first observed at 19 days post-natal (p19). Spermatogenesis is blocked during late spermiogenesis in young adults. Gradual depletion of all stages of germ cells results in a Sertoli-cell-only phenotype by approximately six months of age. Subsequently, almost all Sertoli cells are lost from the seminiferous tubules and the Leydig cell population is reduced. Molecular analysis indicates that the gene mutated is Bclw, a death-protecting member of the Bcl2 family. The mutant allele of Bclw in ROSA41 does not produce a Bclw polypeptide. Expression of Bclw in the testis appears to be restricted to elongating spermatids and Sertoli cells. Potential roles for Bclw in testicular function are discussed.
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