A mouse protamine 1 cDNA probe was used to study P1 protamine gene expression during the cycle of the seminiferous epithelium in the rat. In situ hybridization experiments showed that transcription of the P1 protamine mRNA starts in the middle of step 7 of spermiogenesis during substage VIIc. The mRNA levels stay high in steps 7-14 spermatids but decrease during steps 15-16 and are virtually undetectable in steps 17-19 spermatids. Northern blot analyses of RNAs isolated from microdissected pools of seminiferous tubules show high P1 protamine mRNA concentrations during stages VIIc-XIV-III of the cycle and lower levels during stages IV-VIIb. Owing to a post-transcriptional shortening of the poly(A) tail by 130 bases, a decrease in the size of protamine 1 mRNA from approximately 580 to 450 nucleotides was observed in stages XIII-XIV suggesting an initiation of protamine 1 synthesis in step 13-14 spermatids. In stages II-VI (steps 16-18 spermatids), only the smaller size protamine 1 mRNA was detectable. The expression of protamine 1 mRNAs has been localized in the very last phase of the haploid gene activity. Although the in situ hybridization suggests a disappearance of protamine 1 mRNA after step 16 of spermiogenesis, Northern blot analysis shows that low levels of mRNA are present during the period of final condensation of the chromatin, reflecting the association of protamine with DNA.

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