Distinct spermiogenic phenotypes underlie sperm elimination in the Segregation Distorter meiotic drive system

M. Herbette, X. L. Wei, C. H. Chang, A. M. Larracuente, B. Loppin and R. Dubruille,  PLOS Genetics,  17:26. 2021.

Segregation Distorter (SD) is a male meiotic drive system in Drosophila melanogaster. Males heterozygous for a selfish SD chromosome rarely transmit the homologous SD+ chromosome. It is well established that distortion results from an interaction between Sd, the primary distorting locus on the SD chromosome and its target, a satellite DNA called Rsp, on the SD+ chromosome. However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms leading to post-meiotic SD+ sperm elimination remain unclear. Here we show that SD/SD+ males of different genotypes but with similarly strong degrees of distortion have distinct spermiogenic phenotypes. In some genotypes, SD+ spermatids fail to fully incorporate protamines after the removal of histones, and degenerate during the individualization stage of spermiogenesis. In contrast, in other SD/SD+ genotypes, protamine incorporation appears less disturbed, yet spermatid nuclei are abnormally compacted, and mature sperm nuclei are eventually released in the seminal vesicle. Our analyses of different SD+ chromosomes suggest that the severity of the spermiogenic defects associates with the copy number of the Rsp satellite. We propose that when Rsp copy number is very high (> 2000), spermatid nuclear compaction defects reach a threshold that triggers a checkpoint controlling sperm chromatin quality to eliminate abnormal spermatids during individualization. Author summary In diploid organisms, both alleles of the same gene have an equal chance to be transmitted to the progeny. However, in many species including mammals, insects and plants, selfish genetic elements perturb gametogenesis in a way that favors their own transmission to the detriment of the homologous chromosome that does not carry them. In Drosophila melanogaster, Segregation Distorter (Sd) is a well-characterized selfish locus that induces, by still-unclear mechanisms, the elimination of sperm cells which contain the homologous second chromosome when this carries a large heterochromatic block of repetitive DNA called Rsp. Here, we show that in Sd males, the replacement of histones by sperm specific protamine-like proteins is perturbed in the differentiating Rsp sperm cells, which are then eliminated before their release in the seminal vesicle. However, in some genetic backgrounds, many spermatids Rsp tend to escape this elimination and defective sperm nuclei are found in the seminal vesicle. We show that these phenotypes are partly linked to the number of repeats in the Rsp block and can be modulated by suppressors present in the genetic background. Our work thus helps to understand how selfish loci exploit gametogenesis to favor their own transmission and highlights the essential role of heterochromatin in spermiogenesis progression.

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