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Nan Li, Elizabeth I Tang and C Yan Cheng

The blood–testis barrier (BTB) is an important ultrastructure in the testis, since the onset of meiosis and spermiogenesis coincides with the establishment of a functional barrier in rodents and humans. It is also noted that a delay in the assembly of a functional BTB following treatment of neonatal rats with drugs such as diethylstilbestrol or adjudin also delays the first wave of spermiation. While the BTB is one of the tightest blood–tissue barriers, it undergoes extensive remodeling, in particular, at stage VIII of the epithelial cycle to facilitate the transport of preleptotene spermatocytes connected in clones across the immunological barrier. Without this timely transport of preleptotene spermatocytes derived from type B spermatogonia, meiosis will be arrested, causing aspermatogenesis. Yet the biology and regulation of the BTB remains largely unexplored since the morphological studies in the 1970s. Recent studies, however, have shed new light on the biology of the BTB. Herein, we critically evaluate some of these findings, illustrating that the Sertoli cell BTB is regulated by actin-binding proteins (ABPs), likely supported by non-receptor protein kinases, to modulate the organization of actin microfilament bundles at the site. Furthermore, microtubule-based cytoskeleton is also working in concert with the actin-based cytoskeleton to confer BTB dynamics. This timely review provides an update on the unique biology and regulation of the BTB based on the latest findings in the field, focusing on the role of ABPs and non-receptor protein kinases.

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Ka-Wai Mok, Dolores D Mruk, Pearl P Y Lie, Wing-Yee Lui and C Yan Cheng

Adjudin is a derivative of 1H-indazole-3-carboxylic acid that was shown to have potent anti-spermatogenic activity in rats, rabbits, and dogs. It exerts its effects most notably locally in the apical compartment of the seminiferous epithelium, behind the blood–testis barrier, by disrupting adhesion of germ cells, most notably spermatids to the Sertoli cells, thereby inducing release of immature spermatids from the epithelium that leads to infertility. After adjudin is metabolized, the remaining spermatogonial stem cells and spermatogonia repopulate the seminiferous epithelium gradually via spermatogonial self-renewal and differentiation, to be followed by meiosis and spermiogenesis, and thus fertility rebounds. Recent studies in rats have demonstrated unequivocally that the primary and initial cellular target of adjudin in the testis is the apical ectoplasmic specialization, a testis-specific anchoring junction type restricted to the interface between Sertoli cells and elongating spermatids (from step 8 to 19 spermatids). In this review, we highlight some of the recent advances and obstacles regarding the possible use of adjudin as a male contraceptive.

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Xiang Xiao, Yue Yang, Baiping Mao, C Yan Cheng and Ya Ni

SRC family kinases (SFKs) are known regulators of multiple cellular events, including cell movement, differentiation, proliferation, survival and apoptosis. SFKs are expressed virtually by all mammalian cells. They are non-receptor protein kinases that phosphorylate a variety of cellular proteins on tyrosine, leading to the activation of protein targets in response to environmental stimuli. Among SFKs, SRC, YES and FYN are the ubiquitously expressed and best studied members. In fact, SRC, the prototypical SFK, was the first tyrosine kinase identified in mammalian cells. Studies have shown that SFKs are regulators of cell junctions, and function in endocytosis and membrane trafficking to regulate junction restructuring events. Herein, we briefly summarize the recent findings in the field regarding the role of SFKs in the testis in regulating spermatogenesis, particularly in Sertoli–Sertoli and Sertoli–germ cell adhesion. While it is almost 50 years since the identification of the oncogene v-Src encoded by Rous sarcoma transforming virus, the understanding of SFK involvement during spermatogenesis in the testis remains far behind that in other epithelia and tissues. The goal of this review is to bridge this gap.

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Huitao Li, Shiwen Liu, Siwen Wu, Linxi Li, Renshan Ge and C Yan Cheng

Recent studies have shown that the testis is producing several biologically active peptides, namely the F5- and the NC1-peptides from laminin-γ3 and collagen α3 (IV) chain, respectively, that promotes blood–testis barrier (BTB) remodeling and also elongated spermatid release at spermiation. Also the LG3/4/5 peptide from laminin-α2 chain promotes BTB integrity which is likely being used for the assembly of a ‘new’ BTB behind preleptotene spermatocytes under transport at the immunological barrier. These findings thus provide a new opportunity for investigators to better understand the biology of spermatogenesis. Herein, we briefly summarize the recent findings and provide a critical update. We also present a hypothetical model which could serve as the framework for studies in the years to come.