Depletion of SMC5/6 sensitizes male germ cells to DNA damage.
The structural maintenance of chromosomes complex, SMC5/6, is thought to be essential for DNA repair and chromosome segregation during mitosis and meiosis. To determine the requirements of the SMC5/6 complex during mouse spermatogenesis we combined a conditional knockout allele for Smc5, with four germ cell specific Cre recombinase transgenes, Ddx4-Cre, Stra8-Cre, Spo11-Cre and Hspa2-Cre, to mutate Smc5 in spermatogonia, in spermatocytes prior to meiotic entry, during early meiotic stages, and during mid-meiotic stages, respectively. Conditional mutation of Smc5 resulted in destabilization of the SMC5/6 complex. Despite this, we observed only mild defects in spermatogenesis. Mutation of Smc5 mediated by Ddx4-Cre and Stra8-Cre resulted in partial loss of pre-leptotene spermatocytes; however, spermatogenesis progresses and mice are fertile. Mutation of Smc5 via Spo11-Cre or Hspa2-Cre did not result in detectable defects of spermatogenesis. Upon exposure to gamma irradiation or etoposide treatment, each conditional Smc5 mutant demonstrated an increase in enlarged round spermatids with multiple acrosomes and supernumerary chromosome content. We propose that the SMC5/6 complex is not acutely required for pre-meiotic DNA replication and meiotic progression during mouse spermatogenesis; however, when germ cells are challenged by exogenous DNA damage, the SMC5/6 complex ensures genome integrity, and thus, fertility.