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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.