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Elizabeth I Tang, Dolores D Mruk and C Yan Cheng

During spermatogenesis, spermatids derived from meiosis simultaneously undergo extensive morphological transformation, to become highly specialized and metabolically quiescent cells, and transport across the seminiferous epithelium. Spermatids are also transported back-and-forth across the seminiferous epithelium during the epithelial cycle until they line up at the luminal edge of the tubule to prepare for spermiation at stage VIII of the cycle. Spermatid transport thus requires the intricate coordination of the cytoskeletons in Sertoli cells (SCs) as spermatids are nonmotile cells lacking the ultrastructures of lamellipodia and filopodia, as well as the organized components of the cytoskeletons. In the course of preparing this brief review, we were surprised to see that, except for some earlier eminent morphological studies, little is known about the regulation of the microtubule (MT) cytoskeleton and the coordination of MT with the actin-based cytoskeleton to regulate spermatid transport during the epithelia cycle, illustrating that this is a largely neglected area of research in the field. Herein, we summarize recent findings in the field regarding the significance of actin- and tubulin-based cytoskeletons in SCs that support spermatid transport; we also highlight specific areas of research that deserve attention in future studies.

Open access

Xiang Xiao, C Yan Cheng and Dolores D Mruk

In this study, we investigated the role of intercellular adhesion molecule-2 (ICAM2) in the testis. ICAM2 is a cell adhesion protein having important roles in cell migration, especially during inflammation when leukocytes cross the endothelium. Herein, we showed ICAM2 to be expressed by germ and Sertoli cells in the rat testis. When a monospecific antibody was used for immunolocalization experiments, ICAM2 was found to surround the heads of elongating/elongated spermatids in all stages of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. To determine whether ICAM2 is a constituent of apical ectoplasmic specialization (ES), co-immunoprecipitation and dual immunofluorescence staining were performed. Interestingly, ICAM2 was found to associate with β1-integrin, nectin-3, afadin, Src, proline-rich tyrosine kinase 2, annexin II, and actin. Following CdCl2 treatment, ICAM2 was found to be upregulated during restructuring of the seminiferous epithelium, with round spermatids becoming increasingly immunoreactive for ICAM2 by 6–16 h. Interestingly, there was a loss in the binding of ICAM2 to actin during CdCl2-induced germ cell loss, suggesting that a loss of ICAM2–actin interactions might have facilitated junction restructuring. Taken collectively, these results illustrate that ICAM2 plays an important role in apical ES dynamics during spermatogenesis.

Free access

Linlin Su, Dolores D Mruk and C Yan Cheng

The blood–testis barrier (BTB), which is created by adjacent Sertoli cells near the basement membrane, serves as a ‘gatekeeper’ to prohibit harmful substances from reaching developing germ cells, most notably postmeiotic spermatids. The BTB also divides the seminiferous epithelium into the basal and adluminal (apical) compartment so that postmeiotic spermatid development, namely spermiogenesis, can take place in a specialized microenvironment in the apical compartment behind the BTB. The BTB also contributes, at least in part, to the immune privilege status of the testis, so that anti-sperm antibodies are not developed against antigens that are expressed transiently during spermatogenesis. Recent studies have shown that numerous drug transporters are expressed by Sertoli cells. However, many of these same drug transporters are also expressed by spermatogonia, spermatocytes, round spermatids, elongating spermatids, and elongated spermatids, suggesting that the developing germ cells are also able to selectively pump drugs ‘in’ and/or ‘out’ via influx or efflux pumps. We review herein the latest developments regarding the role of drug transporters in spermatogenesis. We also propose a model utilized by the testis to protect germ cell development from ‘harmful’ environmental toxicants and xenobiotics and/or from ‘therapeutic’ substances (e.g. anticancer drugs). We also discuss how drug transporters that are supposed to protect spermatogenesis can work against the testis in some instances. For example, when drugs (e.g. male contraceptives) that can perturb germ cell adhesion and/or maturation are actively pumped out of the testis or are prevented from entering the apical compartment, such as by efflux pumps.

Free access

Wing-Yee Lui, Yan Ho Cheng, Dolores D Mruk, Chin Ho Cheng, Meng Yun Mo, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

Earlier studies have shown that germ cells or germ cell-conditioned media are capable of regulating α2-macroglobulin (α2-MG, a non-specific protease inhibitor) expression by Sertoli cells and hepatocytes cultured in vitro. These results illustrate a possible physiological link between testes and liver regarding α2-MG production. Using a series of surgical procedures including castration, hemicastration, and hepatectomy coupled with Northern blot and immunoblot analyses, we report herein that the surge in α2-MG expression in the liver in response to inflammation is indeed regulated, at least in part, by the testis via testosterone. It was found that hepatectomy induced at least a tenfold increase in the steady-state mRNA and protein production of α2-MG in the liver. However, castration induced a mild but not statistically significant induction of α2-MG in the liver in contrast to sham operation or hemicastration alone, when hemicastration alone could induce liver α2-MG production by almost fourfold. Perhaps most important of all, hepatectomy accompanied by castration significantly reduced the liver α2-MG response to the surgery-induced inflammation compared with hepatectomy alone, illustrating that the removal of the testicles can induce a loss of signal communications between the testis and the liver, rendering a significant loss of the α2-MG response to experimentally induced inflammation in the liver. Interestingly, this lack of response of the liver to surgery-induced inflammation regarding α2-MG production following castration could be restored, at least in part, by using testosterone implants placed subdermally 6 days prior to orchiectomy. Collectively, these results illustrate that a physiological link does indeed exist between the testis and the liver, and that testes per se can influence the liver in vivo α2-MG expression in response to inflammation possibly via testosterone or testosterone-induced biological factor(s).

Free access

Nikki P Y Lee, Dolores D Mruk, Weiliang Xia and C Yan Cheng

Sphingomyelin synthase 2 (SMS2) is an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of phosphatidylcholine and ceramide to sphingomyelin and diacylglycerol, and it is crucial to cellular lipid metabolism. Using the technique of subtraction hybridization, we have isolated a full-length cDNA encoding SMS2 from rat testes, which shared 93 and 87% identity at the nucleotide level with SMS2 in mice and humans respectively. A specific polyclonal antibody was prepared against a 20 amino acid peptide of NH2-FSWPLSWPPGCFKSSCKKYS-COOH near the C-terminus of SMS2. Studies by RT-PCR and immunoblotting have shown that the expression of SMS2 was limited to late round spermatids and elongating spermatids, but it was not detected in late elongate spermatids and Sertoli cells. Furthermore, SMS2 was shown to associate with the developing acrosome beginning in late round spermatid through elongating spermatids (but not late elongate spermatids) and the cell membrane in studies using fluorescent microscopy and immunohistochemistry. These data were further confirmed by studies using immunogold electron microscopy. The expression of SMS2 in the seminiferous epithelium is stage-specific with its highest expression detected in the acrosome region in late round spermatids from stages VIII–IX, and also in the acrosome in elongating spermatids with diminished intensity in stages X–V; however, it was not found in the acrosome in elongate spermatids in stages VI–VIII. Collectively, these results suggest that SMS2 may play a crucial role in the lipid metabolism in acrosome formation and the plasma membrane restructuring from late round spermatids to early elongating spermatids.

Free access

Linlin Su, Dolores D Mruk, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

The blood–testis barrier (BTB) creates an immunological barrier that segregates the seminiferous epithelium into the basal and apical compartment. Thus, meiosis I/II and post-meiotic germ cell development take place in a specialized microenvironment in the apical compartment behind the BTB and these events are being shielded from the host immune system. If unwanted drugs and/or chemicals enter the apical compartment from the microvessels in the interstitium via the basal compartment, efflux pumps (e.g. P-glycoprotein) located in Sertoli cells and/or spermatids can actively transport these molecules out of the apical compartment. However, the mechanism(s) by which influx pumps regulate the entry of drugs/chemicals into the apical compartment is not known. In this study, a solute carrier (SLC) transporter organic anion transporting polypeptide 3 (Oatp3, Slco1a5) was shown to be an integrated component of the N-cadherin-based adhesion complex at the BTB. However, a knockdown of Oatp3 alone or in combination with three other major Sertoli cell drug influx pumps, namely Slc22a5, Slco6b1, and Slco6c1, by RNAi using corresponding specific siRNA duplexes failed to perturb the Sertoli cell tight junction (TJ) permeability barrier function. Yet, the transport of [3H]adjudin, a potential male contraceptive that is considered a toxicant to spermatogenesis, across the BTB was impeded following the knockdown of either Oatp3 or all the four SLC transporters. In short, even though drug transporters (e.g. influx pumps) are integrated components of the adhesion protein complexes at the BTB, they are not involved in regulating the Sertoli cell TJ permeability barrier function, instead they are only involved in the transport of drugs, such as adjudin, across the immunological barrier at the BTB.

Free access

Weiliang Xia, Dolores D Mruk, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

During spermatogenesis, extensive restructuring takes place at the Sertoli–Sertoli and Sertoli–germ cell interface, which is regulated via intriguing interactions among cytokines, proteases, protease inhibitors, kinases, phosphatases, and transcription factors. This in turn determines the steady-state levels of integral membrane proteins at the cell junctions. We sought to further expand these observations using the Adjudin model. Adjudin is a potential male contraceptive that targets Sertoli–germ cell adhesion, causing exfoliation of spermatids and spermatocytes, but not spermatogonia, from the seminiferous epithelium. This model thus provides the means to identify crucial regulatory molecules and signaling pathways pertinent to junction restructuring events during spermatogenesis. In this study, genome-wide expression profiling of rat testes after treatment with Adjudin at the time of extensive junction restructuring was performed. Differentially regulated genes, such as cytokines, proteases, protease inhibitors, cell junction-associated proteins, and transcription factors pertinent to junction restructuring were identified. These data were consistent with earlier findings; however, much new information was obtained which has been deposited at the Gene Expression Omnibus data repository website: with Accession number: GSE5131. The primary signaling events pertinent to junction restructuring in the testis induced by Adjudin were also delineated using bioinformatics. These findings were also consistent with recently published reports. The identified molecular signatures or targets pertinent to junction dynamics in the testis as reported herein, many of which have not been investigated, thus offer a framework upon which the regulation of junction restructuring events at the Sertoli–Sertoli and Sertoli–germ cell interface pertinent to spermatogenesis can be further studied.

Free access

Shengyi Sun, Elissa W P Wong, Michelle W M Li, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

During spermatogenesis, spermiation takes place at the adluminal edge of the seminiferous epithelium at stage VIII of the epithelial cycle during which fully developed spermatids (i.e. spermatozoa) detach from the epithelium in adult rat testes. This event coincides with the migration of preleptotene/leptotene spermatocytes across the blood–testis barrier from the basal to the apical (or adluminal) compartment. At stage XIV of the epithelial cycle, Pachytene spermatocytes (diploid, 2n) differentiate into diplotene spermatocytes (tetraploid, 4n) in the apical compartment of the epithelium, which begin meiosis I to be followed by meiosis II to form spermatids (haploid, 1n) at stage XIV of the epithelial cycle. These spermatids, in turn, undergo extensive morphological changes and traverse the seminiferous epithelium until they differentiate into elongated spermatids. Thus, there are extensive changes at the Sertoli–Sertoli and Sertoli–germ cell interface via protein ‘coupling’ and ‘uncoupling’ between cell adhesion protein complexes, as well as changes in interactions between integral membrane proteins and their peripheral adaptors, regulatory protein kinases and phosphatases, and the cytoskeletal proteins. These precisely coordinated protein–protein interactions affect cell adhesion and cell movement. In this review, we focus on the 14-3-3 protein family, whose members have different binding partners in the seminiferous epithelium. Recent studies have illustrated that 14-3-3 affects protein–protein interactions in the seminiferous epithelium, and regulates cell adhesion possibly via its effects on intracellular protein trafficking and cell-polarity proteins. This review provides a summary on the latest findings regarding the role of 14-3-3 family of proteins and their potential implications on spermatogenesis. We also highlight research areas that deserve attentions by investigators.

Free access

Pearl P Y Lie, Weiliang Xia, Claire Q F Wang, Dolores D Mruk, Helen H N Yan, Ching-hang Wong, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

In adult rat testes, blood–testis barrier (BTB) restructuring facilitates the migration of preleptotene spermatocytes from the basal to the adluminal compartment that occurs at stage VIII of the epithelial cycle. Structural proteins at the BTB must utilize an efficient mechanism (e.g. endocytosis) to facilitate its transient ‘opening’. Dynamin II, a large GTPase known to be involved in endocytosis, was shown to be a product of Sertoli and germ cells in the testis. It was also localized to the BTB, as well as the apical ectoplasmic specialization (apical ES), during virtually all stages of the epithelial cycle. By co-immunoprecipitation, dynamin II was shown to associate with occludin, N-cadherin, zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1), β-catenin, junctional adhesion molecule-A, and p130Cas, but not nectin-3. An in vivo model in rats previously characterized for studying adherens junction (AJ) dynamics in the testes by adjudin (formerly called AF-2364, 1-(2,4-dichlorobenzyl)-1H-indazole-3-car-hohydrizide) treatment was used in our studies. At the time of germ cell loss from the seminiferous epithelium as a result of adjudin-induced AJ restructuring without disrupting the BTB integrity, a significant decline in the steady-state dynamin II protein level was detected. This change was associated with a concomitant increase in the levels of two protein complexes at the BTB, namely occludin/ZO-1 and N-cadherin/β-catenin. Interestingly, these changes were also accompanied by a significant increase in the structural interaction of dynamin II with β-catenin and ZO-1. β-Catenin and ZO-1 are adaptors that structurally link the cadherin- and occludin-based protein complexes together at the BTB in an ‘engaged’state to reinforce the barrier function in normal testes. However, β-catenin and ZO-1 were ‘disengaged’ from each other but bound to dynamin II during adjudin-induced AJ restructuring in the testis. The data reported herein suggest that dynamin II may assist the ‘disengagement’ of β-catenin from ZO-1 during BTB restructuring. Thus, this may permit the occludin/ZO-1 complexes to maintain the BTB integrity when the cadherin/catenin complexes are dissociated to facilitate germ cell movement.

Free access

Michelle W M Li, Weiliang Xia, Dolores D Mruk, Claire Q F Wang, Helen H N Yan, Michelle K Y Siu, Wing-yee Lui, Will M Lee and C Yan Cheng

The timely restructuring of the blood–testis barrier (BTB) that facilitates the migration of preleptotene and leptotene spermatocytes from the basal to the adluminal compartment in the seminiferous epithelium of adult rat testes, which occurs at late stage VII through early stage VIII of the epithelial cycle, is a crucial cellular event of spermatogenesis. However, the regulation of BTB dynamics at the biochemical level remains elusive. In this study, tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), a secretory product of Sertoli and germ cells in rat testes, was shown to affect junction dynamics in vivo. Following an acute administration of recombinant TNFα directly to adult rat testes in vivo at 0.5 and 2 μg/testis (with a body weight ~300 g), this treatment significantly and transiently disrupted the BTB. It also transiently inhibited the steady-state protein levels of occludin, zonula occludens-1, and N-cadherin, but not junction adhesion molecule-A, α-, and β-catenin in testes at the BTB site as illustrated by immunoblottings, immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, and fluorescent microscopy. This transient disruption of the BTB integrity induced by TNFα treatment was further demonstrated by a functional test to assess the passage of a fluorescent dye (e.g. fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate) from the systemic circulation to the adluminal compartment. Additionally, both the phosphorylated-Ser/Thr protein kinase activated by MAP kinase kinase (p-p38) and phosphorylated-externally regulated kinase (p-ERK) mitogen -activated protein kinase-signaling pathways were transiently activated. Collectively, these data coupled with the recently published in vitro studies have illustrated that the BTB is likely utilizing a novel mechanism in which localized production of TNFα by Sertoli and germ cells into the microenvironment at the basal compartment facilitates the timely restructuring (‘opening’?) of the BTB during spermatogenesis to facilitate germ cell migration.