The major sperm proteins (MSPs) are a family of closely related, small, basic proteins comprising 15% of the protein in Caenorhabditis elegans sperm. They are encoded by a multigene family of more than 50 genes, including many pseudogenes. MSP gene transcription occurs only in late primary spermatocytes. In order to study the genomic organization of transcribed MSP genes, probes specific for the 3′ untranslated regions of sequenced cDNA clones were used to isolate transcribed genes from genomic libraries. These and other clones of MSP genes were located in overlapping cosmid clones by DNA fingerprinting. These cosmids were aligned with the genetic map by overlap with known genes or in-situ hybridization to chromosomes. Of 40 MSP genes identified, 37, including all those known to be transcribed, are organized into six clusters composed of 3 to 13 genes each. Within each cluster, MSP genes are not in tandem but are separated by at least several thousand bases of DNA. Pseudogenes are interspersed among functional genes. Genes with similar 3′ untranslated sequences are in the same cluster. The six MSP clusters are confined to only three chromosomal loci; one on the left arm of chromosome II and two near the middle of chromosome IV. Additional sperm-specific genes are located in one cluster of MSP genes on chromosome IV. The multiplicity of MSP genes appears to be a mechanism for enhancing MSP synthesis in spermatocytes, and the loose clustering of genes could be a result of the mechanism of gene duplication or could play a role in regulation. © 1988.
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