Loss of Ubiquitin Carboxy-Terminal Hydrolase L1 Impairs Long-Term Differentiation Competence and Metabolic Regulation in Murine Spermatogonial Stem Cells
Spermatogonia are stem and progenitor cells responsible for maintaining mammalian spermatogenesis. Preserving the balance between self-renewal of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and differentiation is critical for spermatogenesis and fertility. Ubiquitin carboxy-terminal hydrolase-L1 (UCH-L1) is highly expressed in spermatogonia of many species; however, its functional role has not been identified. Here, we aimed to understand the role of UCH-L1 in murine spermatogonia using a Uch-l1−/− mouse model. We confirmed that UCH-L1 is expressed in undifferentiated and early-differentiating spermatogonia in the post-natal mammalian testis. The Uch-l1−/− mice showed reduced testis weight and progressive degeneration of seminiferous tubules. Single-cell transcriptome analysis detected a dysregulated metabolic profile in spermatogonia of Uch-l1−/− compared to wild-type mice. Furthermore, cultured Uch-l1−/− SSCs had decreased capacity in regenerating full spermatogenesis after transplantation in vivo and accelerated oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) during maintenance in vitro. Together, these results indicate that the absence of UCH-L1 impacts the maintenance of SSC homeostasis and metabolism and impacts the differentiation competence. Metabolic perturbations associated with loss of UCH-L1 appear to underlie a reduced capacity for supporting spermatogenesis and fertility with age. This work is one step further in understanding the complex regulatory circuits underlying SSC function.