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FASEB J. 2008 Jun;22(6):1945-59. doi: 10.1096/fj.06-070342. Epub 2008 Jan 11.

Blood-testis barrier dynamics are regulated by testosterone and cytokines via their differential effects on the kinetics of protein endocytosis and recycling in Sertoli cells.

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  • 1Center for Biomedical Research, Population Council, New York, New York 10065, USA.


During spermatogenesis in the mammalian testis, preleptotene/leptotene spermatocytes differentiate from type B spermatogonia and traverse the blood-testis barrier (BTB) at stage VIII of the seminiferous epithelial cycle for further development. This timely movement of germ cells involves extensive junction restructuring at the BTB. Previous studies have shown that these events are regulated by testosterone (T) and cytokines [e.g., the transforming growth factor (TGF) -betas], which promote and disrupt the BTB assembly, respectively. However, the mechanisms underlying the "opening" of the BTB above a migrating preleptotene/leptotene spermatocyte and the "resealing" of the barrier underneath this cell remain obscure. We now report findings on a novel mechanism utilized by the testes to regulate these events. Using cell surface protein biotinylation coupled with immunoblotting and immunofluorescent microscopy, we assessed the kinetics of endocytosis and recycling of BTB-associated integral membrane proteins: occludin, JAM-A, and N-cadherin. It was shown that these proteins were continuously endocytosed and recycled back to the Sertoli cell surface via the clathrin-mediated but not the caveolin-mediated pathway. When T or TGF-beta2 was added to Sertoli cell cultures with established functional BTB, both factors accelerated the kinetics of internalization of BTB proteins from the cell surface, perhaps above the migrating preleptotene spermatocyte, thereby opening the BTB. Likewise, T also enhanced the kinetics of recycling of internalized biotinylated proteins back to the cell surface, plausibly relocating these proteins beneath the migrating spermatocyte to reassemble the BTB. In contrast, TGF-beta2 targeted internalized biotinylated proteins to late endosomes for degradation, destabilizing the BTB. In summary, the transient opening of the BTB that facilitates germ cell movement is mediated via the differential effects of T and cytokines on the kinetics of endocytosis and recycling of integral membrane proteins at the BTB. The net result of these interactions, in turn, determines the steady-state protein levels at the Sertoli-Sertoli cell interface at the BTB.

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