Characterisation of the Manduca sexta sperm proteome: Genetic novelty underlying sperm composition in Lepidoptera

Emma Whittington, Qian Zhao, Kirill Borziak, James R. Walters, Steve Dorus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The application of mass spectrometry based proteomics to sperm biology has greatly accelerated progress in understanding the molecular composition and function of spermatozoa. To date, these approaches have been largely restricted to model organisms, all of which produce a single sperm morph capable of oocyte fertilisation. Here we apply high-throughput mass spectrometry proteomic analysis to characterise sperm composition in Manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm moth, which produce heteromorphic sperm, including one fertilisation competent (eupyrene) and one incompetent (apyrene) sperm type. This resulted in the high confidence identification of 896 proteins from a co-mixed sample of both sperm types, of which 167 are encoded by genes with strict one-to-one orthology in Drosophila melanogaster. Importantly, over half (55.1%) of these orthologous proteins have previously been identified in the D.melanogaster sperm proteome and exhibit significant conservation in quantitative protein abundance in sperm between the two species. Despite the complex nature of gene expression across spermatogenic stages, a significant correlation was also observed between sperm protein abundance and testis gene expression. Lepidopteran-specific sperm proteins (e.g., proteins with no homology to proteins in non-Lepidopteran taxa) were present in significantly greater abundance on average than those with homology outside the Lepidoptera. Given the disproportionate production of apyrene sperm (96% of all mature sperm in Manduca) relative to eupyrene sperm, these evolutionarily novel and highly abundant proteins are candidates for possessing apyrene-specific functions. Lastly, comparative genomic analyses of testis-expressed, ovary-expressed and sperm genes identified a concentration of novel sperm proteins shared amongst Lepidoptera of potential relevance to the evolutionary origin of heteromorphic spermatogenesis. As the first published Lepidopteran sperm proteome, this whole-cell proteomic characterisation will facilitate future evolutionary genetic and developmental studies of heteromorphic sperm production and parasperm function. Furthermore, the analyses presented here provide useful annotation information regarding sex-biased gene expression, novel Lepidopteran genes and gene function in the male gamete to complement the newly sequenced and annotated Manduca genome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Jul 22 2015


  • Apyrene sperm
  • Parasperm
  • Quantitative proteomics
  • Sexual selection
  • Sperm competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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