MAGE cancer-testis antigens protect the mammalian germline under environmental stress

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Science Advances  29 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav4832
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav4832


Ensuring robust gamete production even in the face of environmental stress is of utmost importance for species survival, especially in mammals that have low reproductive rates. Here, we describe a family of genes called melanoma antigens (MAGEs) that evolved in eutherian mammals and are normally restricted to expression in the testis ( but are often aberrantly activated in cancer. Depletion of Mage-a genes disrupts spermatogonial stem cell maintenance and impairs repopulation efficiency in vivo. Exposure of Mage-a knockout mice to genotoxic stress or long-term starvation that mimics famine in nature causes defects in spermatogenesis, decreased testis weights, diminished sperm production, and reduced fertility. Last, human MAGE-As are activated in many cancers where they promote fuel switching and growth of cells. These results suggest that mammalian-specific MAGE genes have evolved to protect the male germline against environmental stress, ensure reproductive success under non-optimal conditions, and are hijacked by cancer cells.

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