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One of the hallmarks of male germ cell development is the formation of a specialized secretory organelle, the acrosome. This process can be pharmacologically disturbed in C57BL/6 mice, and thus infertility can be induced, by small molecular sugar-like compounds (alkylated imino sugars). Here the biochemical basis of this effect has been investigated. Our findings suggest that in vivo alkylated imino sugars primarily interact with the non-lysosomal glucosylceramidase. This enzyme cleaves glucosylceramide into glucose and ceramide, is sensitive to imino sugars in vitro, and has been characterized as beta-glucosidase 2 (GBA2). Imino sugars raised the level of glucosylceramide in brain, spleen, and testis, in a dose-dependent fashion. In testis, multiple species of glucosylceramide were similarly elevated, those having long acyl chains (C16-24), as well as those with very long polyunsaturated acyl chains (C28-30:5). Both of these GlcCer species were also increased in the testes from GBA2-deficient mice. When considering that the very long polyunsaturated sphingolipids are restricted to germ cells, these results indicate that in the testis GBA2 is present in both somatic and germ cells. Furthermore, in all mouse strains tested imino sugar treatment caused a rise in testicular glucosylceramide, even in a number of strains, of which the males remain fertile after drug administration. Therefore, it appears that acrosome formation can be derailed by accumulation of glucosylceramide in an extralysosomal localization, and that the sensitivity of male germ cells to glucosylceramide is genetically determined.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





32655 - 32664


1-Deoxynojirimycin, Animals, Enzyme Inhibitors, Glucosylceramides, Imino Sugars, Kinetics, Male, Mice, Spermatogenesis, Sphingolipids, Testis, beta-Glucosidase