The presence of a complex population of mRNAs in human mature spermatozoa is well documented; among them, transcripts of aromatase and ERs (oestrogen receptors) have been described but their significance is not clear. Therefore, to clarify the role of this complex population of mRNAs in human ejaculated sperm, we have isolated on discontinuous density gradients two main fractions from the same sample: high- and low-motile spermatozoa. The levels of different transcripts coding for molecules involved in nuclear condensation [Prm-1 (protamine 1) and Prm-2], capacitation [eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthase), nNOS (neuronal nitric oxide synthase), c-myc], motility and sperm survival (aromatase) have been assessed using semi-quantitative RT (reverse transcriptase)–PCR. The viability of sperm as well as the percentage of apoptosis were identical in high- and low-motile fractions. No significant change in the c-myc/Prm-2 ratio between the two populations of spermatozoa was observed. Conversely the amount of Prm-1 mRNA was significantly higher in low-motile than in high-motile fraction; in most of the high-motile sperm samples analysed, eNOS and nNOS transcripts were undetectable, whereas they were observed in low-motile sperm. Moreover, a partial or complete disappearance of c-myc transcripts was observed after capacitation. As to the aromatase expression, a significant decrease in the amount of transcripts in immotile sperm fraction was recorded in all samples studied. To conclude, analysing mRNA profiles in humans could be helpful either as a diagnostic tool to evaluate male fertility, since they reflect spermatogenesis gene expression, and/or a prognosis value for fertilization, since these RNAs are delivered to oocytes.

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