Autophagy and ubiquitin-proteasome system contribute to sperm mitophagy after mammalian fertilization

Won Hee Song, Young Joo Yi, Miriam Sutovsky, Stuart A Meyers, Peter Sutovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Maternal inheritance of mitochondria and mtDNA is a universal principle in human and animal development, guided by selective ubiquitin-dependent degradation of the sperm-borne mitochondria after fertilization. However, it is not clear how the 26S proteasome, the ubiquitin-dependent protease that is only capable of degrading one protein molecule at a time, can dispose of a whole sperm mitochondrial sheath. We hypothesized that the canonical ubiquitin-like autophagy receptors [sequestosome 1 (SQSTM1), microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3), gammaaminobutyric acid receptor-associated protein (GABARAP)] and the nontraditional mitophagy pathways involving ubiquitinproteasome system and the ubiquitin-binding protein dislocase, valosin-containing protein (VCP), may act in concert during mammalian sperm mitophagy. We found that the SQSTM1, but not GABARAP or LC3, associated with sperm mitochondria after fertilization in pig and rhesus monkey zygotes. Three sperm mitochondrial proteins copurified with the recombinant, ubiquitin-associated domain of SQSTM1. The accumulation of GABARAP-containing protein aggregates was observed in the vicinity of sperm mitochondrial sheaths in the zygotes and increased in the embryos treated with proteasomal inhibitor MG132, in which intact sperm mitochondrial sheaths were observed. Pharmacological inhibition of VCP significantly delayed the process of sperm mitophagy and completely prevented it when combined with microinjection of autophagytargeting antibodies specific to SQSTM1 and/or GABARAP. Sperm mitophagy in higher mammals thus relies on a combined action of SQSTM1-dependent autophagy and VCP-mediated dislocation and presentation of ubiquitinated sperm mitochondrial proteins to the 26S proteasome, explaining how the whole sperm mitochondria are degraded inside the fertilized mammalian oocytes by a protein recycling system involved in degradation of single protein molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E5261-E5270
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 6 2016


  • Mitochondria|mtDNA
  • Ubiquitin|autophagy |mitophagy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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