Tau Tubulin Kinase Is Required for Spermatogenesis and Development of Motile Cilia in Planarian Flatworms

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Cilia are microtubule-based structures that protrude from the apical surface of cells to mediate motility, transport, intracellular signaling, and environmental sensing. Tau tubulin kinases (TTBKs) destabilize microtubules by phosphorylating microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) of the MAP2/Tau family, but also contribute to the assembly of primary cilia during embryogenesis. Expression of TTBKs is enriched in testicular tissue, but their relevance to reproductive processes is unknown. We identified six TTBK homologues in the genome of the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea (Smed-TTBK-a, -b, -c, -d, -e, and -f), all of which are preferentially expressed in testes. Inhibition of TTBK paralogues by RNA interference (RNAi) revealed a specific requirement for Smed-TTBK-d in postmeiotic regulation of spermatogenesis. Disrupting expression of Smed-TTBK-d results in loss of spermatozoa, but not spermatids. In the soma, Smed-TTBK-d RNAi impaired the function of multiciliated epidermal cells in propelling planarian movement, as well as the osmoregulatory function of protonephridia. Decreased density and structural defects of motile cilia were observed in the epidermis of Smed-TTBK-d(RNAi) by phase contrast, immunofluorescence, and transmission electron microscopy. Altogether, these results demonstrate that members of the TTBK family of proteins are postmeiotic regulators of sperm development and also contribute to the formation of motile cilia in the soma.



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