Circular RNAs from BOULE play conserved roles in protection against stress-induced fertility decline

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Science Advances  11 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 46, eabb7426
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb7426


Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are a large family of newly identified transcripts, and their physiological roles and evolutionary significance require further characterization. Here, we identify circRNAs generated from a conserved reproductive gene, Boule, in species from Drosophila to humans. Flies missing circular Boule (circBoule) RNAs display decreased male fertility, and sperm of circBoule knockout mice exhibit decreased fertilization capacity, when under heat stress conditions. During spermatogenesis, fly circBoule RNAs interact with heat shock proteins (HSPs) Hsc4 and Hsp60C, and mouse circBoule RNAs in sperm interact with HSPA2. circBoule RNAs regulate levels of HSPs by promoting their ubiquitination. The interaction between HSPA2 and circBoule RNAs is conserved in human sperm, and lower levels of the human circBoule RNAs circEx3-6 and circEx2-7 are found in asthenozoospermic sperm. Our findings reveal conserved physiological functions of circBoule RNAs in metazoans and suggest that specific circRNAs may be critical modulators of male reproductive function against stresses in animals.

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