The c-ros gene was originally identified in mutant form as an oncogene. The proto-oncogene encodes a tyrosine kinase receptor that is expressed in a small number of epithelial cell types, including those of the epididymis. Targeted mutations of c-ros in the mouse reveal an essential role of the gene in male fertility. Male c-ros -/- animals do not reproduce, whereas the fertility of female animals is not affected. We demonstrate that c-ros is not required in a cell autonomous manner for male germ cell development or function. The gene, therefore, does not affect sperm generation or function in a direct manner. The primary defect in the mutant animals was located in the epididymis, showing that c-ros controls appropriate development of the epithelia, particularly regionalization and terminal differentiation. The epididymal defect does not interfere with production or storage of sperm but, rather, with sperm maturation and the ability of sperm to fertilize in vivo. Interestingly, sperm isolated from c-ros -/- animals can fertilize in vitro. Our results highlight the essential role of the epididymis in male fertility and demonstrate a highly specific function of the c-ros receptor tyrosine kinase during development of distinct epithelial cells.
- c-ros tyrosine kinase receptor
- epithelial cells
- terminal differentiation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental Biology