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PLoS One. 2013 Dec 31;8(12):e84354. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084354. eCollection 2013.

Impaired function of the blood-testis barrier during aging is preceded by a decline in cell adhesion proteins and GTPases.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montréal, Canada.
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montréal, Canada ; Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, McGill University, Montréal, Canada.


With increasing age comes many changes in the testis, including germ cell loss. Cell junctions in the testis tether both seminiferous epithelial and germ cells together and assist in the formation of the blood-testis barrier (BTB), which limits transport of biomolecules, ions and electrolytes from the basal to the adluminal compartment and protects post-meiotic germ cells. We hypothesize that as male rats age the proteins involved in forming the junctions decrease and that this alters the ability of the BTB to protect the germ cells. Pachytene spermatocytes were isolated from Brown Norway rat testes at 4 (young) and 18 (aged) months of age using STA-PUT velocity sedimentation technique. RNA was extracted and gene expression was assessed using Affymetrix rat 230 2.0 whole rat genome microarrays. Microarray data were confirmed by q-RT-PCR and protein expression by Western blotting. Of the genes that were significantly decreased by at least 1.5 fold, 70 were involved in cell adhesion; of these, at least 20 are known to be specifically involved in junction dynamics within the seminiferous epithelium. The mRNA and protein levels of Jam2, Ocln, cdh2 (N-cadherin), ctnna (α-catenin), and cldn11 (involved in adherens junctions), among others, were decreased by approximately 50% in aged spermatocytes. In addition, the GTPases Rac1 and cdc42, involved in the recruitment of cadherins to the adherens junctions, were similarly decreased. It is therefore not surprising that with lower expression of these proteins that the BTB becomes diminished with age. We saw, using a FITC tracer, a gradual collapse of the BTB between 18 and 24 months. This provides the opportunity for harmful substances and immune cells to cross the BTB and cause the disruption of spermatogenesis that is observed with increasing age.

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