Germ cells contribute to the function of the Sertoli cell barrier: An in vitro study
One of the most important but still poorly understood cellular phenomena occurring during spermatogenesis is the movement of preleptotene/leptotene spermatocytes across the blood-testis barrier (BTB), an ultrastructure comprised of tight junctions (TJs), basal ectoplasmic specializations, gap junctions, and desmosomes. Previous studies have shown cytokines and androgens to mediate BTB restructuring, but it is not yet entirely known if germ cells can regulate barrier function, and if yes, how. To address this question, we utilized a previously characterized Sertoli–germ cell coculture model coupled with transepithelial electrical resistance (TER), immunoblotting, and immunolocalization experiments. When freshly isolated germ cells from adult rat testes were added to Sertoli cells at a Sertoli:germ cell ratio of 1:5 (Sertoli cells were previously cultured at high density on Matrigel™-coated culture inserts for 3 d to allow assembly of a functional permeability barrier that mimicked the Sertoli cell BTB in vivo), there was a significant increase in TER compared with time-matched controls (i.e., Sertoli cells only), illustrating that germ cells promote Sertoli cell barrier function. This increase in barrier function was not likely the result of TJ gene expression by germ cells. Instead, germ cells upregulated the steady-state levels of several TJ proteins, including occludin, tricellulin, claudin, junctional adhesion molecule-A, and coxsackievirus and adenovirus receptor (CAR) in Sertoli cells. These results were corroborated in part by immunofluorescence staining when an increase in occludin at Sertoli–Sertoli cell borders was observed in vitro. Taken collectively, our results illustrate that germ cells contribute to BTB integrity, which is essential for spermatogenesis and fertility.
A network of spectrin and plectin surrounds the actin cuffs of apical tubulobulbar complexes in the rat
Tubulobulbar complexes (TBCs) are actin-related endocytic structures that internalize intercellular junctions in the seminiferous epithelium. The structures consist of elongate tubular projections of the attached plasma membranes of two adjacent cells that project into Sertoli cells. This double membrane core is cuffed by a dentritic actin network and is capped at its end by a clathrin-coated pit. Here we explore the possibility that elements of the spectrin cytoskeleton are associated with clusters of tubulobulbar complexes that develop at adhesion junctions between late spermatids and Sertoli cells at the apex of the epithelium, and extend what is known about the distribution of plectin at the sites.
Cryo-sections of perfusion-fixed testes and apical processes of Sertoli cells mechanically dissociated from perfusion-fixed testes were probed for spectrin, EPB41, and actin and analyzed using conventional fluorescence microscopy and confocal microscopy. Data sets from confocal microscopy were analyzed further in three-dimensional reconstructions using computer software. Additional apical Sertoli cell processes were probed for plectin and analyzed using conventional fluorescence microscopy. Antibodies generated against elements of the spectrin cytoskeleton react with material around and between the actin cuffs of tubulobulbar complexes, but appear excluded from the actin cuffs themselves. A similar staining pattern occurs with a probe for plectin. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed the staining patterns observed by fluourescence microscopy. Based on our results, we suggest that a network of spectrin and plectin forms a scaffold around tubulobulbar complexes that may provide support for the actin network that cuffs each complex and also link adjacent complexes together.
NC1 domain of collagen α3(IV) derived from the basement membrane regulates Sertoli cell blood-testis barrier dynamics
The blood-testis barrier (BTB) is an important ultrastructure for spermatogenesis. Delay in BTB formation in neonatal rats or its irreversible damage in adult rats leads to meiotic arrest and failure of spermatogonial differentiation beyond type A. While hormones, such as testosterone and FSH, are crucial to BTB function, little is known if there is a local regulatory mechanism in the seminiferous epithelium that modulates BTB function. Herein, we report that collagen α3(IV) chain, a component of the basement membrane in the rat testis, could generate a noncollagenous (NC1) domain peptide [Colα3(IV) NC1] via limited proteolysis by matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), and that the expression of MMP-9 was upregulated by TNFα. While recombinant Colα3(IV) NC1 protein produced in E. coli failed to perturb Sertoli cell tight junction (TJ)-permeability barrier function, possibly due to the lack of glycosylation, Colα3(IV) NC1 recombinant protein produced in mammalian cells and purified to apparent homogeneity by affinity chromatography was found to reversibly perturb the Sertoli cell TJ-barrier function. Interestingly, Colα3(IV) NC1 recombinant protein did not perturb the steady-state levels of several TJ- (e.g., occludin, CAR, JAM-A, ZO-1) and basal ectoplasmic specialization- (e.g., N-cadherin, α-catenin, β-catenin) proteins at the BTB but induced changes in protein localization and/or distribution at the Sertoli cell-cell interface in which these proteins moved from the cell surface into the cell cytosol, thereby destabilizing the TJ function. These findings illustrate the presence of a local regulatory axis known as the BTB-basement membrane axis that regulates BTB restructuring during spermatogenesis.
A survey of Sertoli cell differentiation in men after gonadotropin suppression and in testicular cancer
It is widely held that the somatic cell population that is responsible for sperm development and output (Sertoli cells) is terminally differentiated and unmodifiable in adults. It is postulated, with little evidence, that Sertoli cells are not terminally differentiated in some phenotypes of infertility and testicular cancer. This study sought to compare markers of Sertoli cell differentiation in normospermic men, oligospermic men (undergoing gonadotropin suppression) and testicular carcinoma in situ (CIS) and seminoma samples. Confocal microscopy was used to assess the expression of markers of proliferation (PCNA and Ki67) and functional differentiation (androgen receptor). As additional markers of differentiation, the organization of Sertoli cell tight junction and associated proteins were assessed in specimens with carcinoma in situ. In normal men, Sertoli cells exhibited a differentiated phenotype (i.e., PCNA and Ki67 negative, androgen 40 receptor positive). However, after long-term gonadotropin suppression, 1.7 ± 0.6% of Sertoli cells exhibited PCNA reactivity associated with a diminished immunoreactivity in androgen receptor, suggesting an undifferentiated phenotype. Ki67-positive Sertoli cells were also observed. PCNA-positive Sertoli cells were never observed in tubules with carcinoma in situ, and only rarely observed adjacent to seminoma. Tight junction protein localization (claudin 11, JAM-A and ZO-1) was altered in CIS, with a reduction in JAM-A reactivity in Sertoli cells from tubules with CIS and the emergence of strong JAM-A reactivity in seminoma. These findings indicate that adult human Sertoli cells exhibit characteristics of an undifferentiated state in oligospermic men and patients with CIS and seminoma in the presence of germ cell neoplasia.
Lentiviral transduction of rat Sertoli cells as a means to modify gene expression
Primary cell culture is an established and widely used technique to study Sertoli cell function in vitro. However, the relative difficulty of stably overexpressing or knocking down genes in Sertoli cell culture has limited progress in the field. In this technical report, we present a method to transduce 20 dpp rat Sertoli cell cultures with VSV-G pseudotyped lentiviral based vectors at a high rate (~80%), with stable reporter gene expression. Although high transgene expression is desirable, it was noted that at transduction rates > 60% inter-Sertoli cell tight junction integrity and, hence, Sertoli cell function, were transiently compromised. We envisage that this optimized procedure has the potential to stimulate Sertoli cell research, and motivate the use of Sertoli cells in various cell therapy applications.
Regulation of drug transporters in the testis by environmental toxicant cadmium, steroids and cytokines
The blood-testis barrier (BTB) provides an efficient barrier to restrict paracellular and transcellular transport of substances, such as toxicants and drugs, limiting their entry to the testis to cause injury. This is achieved by the coordinated actions of efflux and influx transporters at the BTB, which are integral membrane proteins that interact with their substrates, such as drugs and toxicants. An efflux transporter (e.g., P-glycoprotein) can either restrict the entry of drugs/toxicants into the testis or actively pump drugs/toxicants out of Sertoli and/or germ cells if they have entered the seminiferous epithelium via influx pumps. This thus provides an effective mechanism to safeguard spermatogenesis. Using Sertoli cells cultured in vitro with an established tight junction (TJ)-permeability barrier which mimicked the BTB in vivo and treated with cadmium chloride (CdCl2), and also in adult rats (~300 g b.w.) treated with CdCl2 (3 mg/kg b.w., via i.p.) to induce testicular injury, cadmium was found to significantly downregulate the expression of efflux (e.g., P-glycoprotein, Mrp1, Abcg1) and influx (e.g., Oatp3, Slc15a1, Scl39a8) transporters. For instance, treatment of Sertoli cells with cadmium induced significant loss of P-glycoprotein and Oatp-3 at the cell-cell interface, which likely facilitated cadmium entry into the Sertoli cell. These findings illustrate that one of the mechanisms by which cadmium enters the testis is mediated by downregulating the expression of drug transporters at the BTB. Furthermore, cytokines and steroids were found to have differential effects in regulating the expression of drug transporters. Summary, the expression of drug transporters in the testis is regulated by toxicants, steroids and cytokines.