Global human tissue profiling and protein network analysis reveals distinct levels of transcriptional germline-specificity and identifies target genes for male infertility
Mammalian spermatogenesis is a process that involves a complex expression program in both somatic and germ cells present in the male gonad. A number of studies have attempted to define the transcriptome of male meiosis and gametogenesis in rodents and primates. Few human transcripts, however, have been associated with testicular somatic cells and germ cells at different post-natal developmental stages and little is known about their level of germline-specificity compared with non-testicular tissues. We quantified human transcripts using GeneChips and a total of 47 biopsies from prepubertal children diagnosed with undescended testis, infertile adult patients whose spermatogenesis is arrested at consecutive stages and fertile control individuals. These results were integrated with data from enriched normal germ cells, non-testicular expression data, phenotype information, predicted regulatory DNA-binding motifs and interactome data. Among 3580 genes for which we found differential transcript concentrations in somatic and germ cells present in human testis, 933 were undetectable in 45 embryonic and adult non-testicular tissues, including many that were corroborated at protein level by published gene annotation data and histological high-throughput protein immunodetection assays. Using motif enrichment analyses, we identified regulatory promoter elements likely involved in germline development. Finally, we constructed a regulatory disease network for human fertility by integrating expression signals, interactome information, phenotypes and functional annotation data. Our results provide broad insight into the post-natal human testicular transcriptome at the level of cell populations and in a global somatic tissular context. Furthermore, they yield clues for genetic causes of male infertility and will facilitate the identification of novel cancer/testis genes as targets for cancer immunotherapies.