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Jessica E M Dunleavy, Moira K O’Bryan, Peter G Stanton and Liza O’Donnell

As germ cells progress through spermatogenesis, they undergo a dramatic transformation, wherein a single, diploid spermatogonial stem cell ultimately produces thousands of highly specialised, haploid spermatozoa. The cytoskeleton is an integral aspect of all eukaryotic cells. It concomitantly provides both structural support and functional pliability, performing key roles in many fundamental processes including, motility, intracellular trafficking, differentiation and cell division. Accordingly, cytoskeletal dynamics underlie many key spermatogenic processes. This review summarises the organisational and functional aspects of the four major cytoskeletal components (actin, microtubules, intermediate filaments and septins) during the various spermatogenic phases in mammals. We focus on the cytoskeletal machinery of both germ cells and Sertoli cells, and thus, highlight the critical importance of a dynamic and precisely regulated cytoskeleton for male fertility.

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Gerard A Tarulli, Sarah J Meachem, Stefan Schlatt and Peter G Stanton

This study aimed to assess the effect of gonadotrophin suppression and FSH replacement on testicular tight junction dynamics and blood–testis barrier (BTB) organisation in vivo, utilising the seasonal breeding Djungarian hamster. Confocal immunohistology was used to assess the cellular organisation of tight junction proteins and real-time PCR to quantify tight junction mRNA. The effect of tight junction protein organisation on the BTB permeability was also investigated using a biotin-linked tracer. Tight junction protein (claudin-3, junctional adhesion molecule (JAM)-A and occludin) localisation was present but disorganised after gonadotrophin suppression, while mRNA levels (claudin-11, claudin-3 and occludin) were significantly (two- to threefold) increased. By contrast, both protein localisation and mRNA levels for the adaptor protein zona occludens-1 decreased after gonadotrophin suppression. FSH replacement induced a rapid reorganisation of tight junction protein localisation. The functionality of the BTB (as inferred by biotin tracer permeation) was found to be strongly associated with the organisation and localisation of claudin-11. Surprisingly, JAM-A was also recognised on spermatogonia, suggesting an additional novel role for this protein in trans-epithelial migration of germ cells across the BTB. It is concluded that gonadotrophin regulation of tight junction proteins forming the BTB occurs primarily at the level of protein organisation and not gene transcription in this species, and that immunolocalisation of the organised tight junction protein claudin-11 correlates with BTB functionality.

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Tu’uhevaha J Kaitu’u-Lino, Pavel Sluka, Caroline F H Foo and Peter G Stanton

Claudin-11 and occludin are protein components in tight junctions (TJs) between Sertoli cells which are important for the maintenance of the blood–testis barrier. Barrier formation occurs during puberty, with evidence suggesting hormonal regulation of both claudin-11 and occludin. This study aimed to investigate the regulation of claudin-11 and occludin mRNA expression by testosterone (T) and FSH and their immunolocalisation at rat Sertoli cell TJs in vitro, and to correlate any steroid regulation with the functional capacity of TJs. Sertoli cells formed functional TJs within 3 days as assessed by transepithelial electrical resistance (TER). Both T and dihydrotestosterone significantly (P < 0.01) increased TER twofold and claudin-11 mRNA two- to threefold within 3 days. FSH partially stimulated TER and claudin-11 mRNA, but estradiol had no effect. T also promoted claudin-11 localisation into extensive intercellular contacts. In contrast to claudin-11, Tand FSH did not change occludin mRNA expression, however, T promoted localisation of occludin at cell contacts in a similar manner to claudin-11. Addition of flutamide to T-stimulated cells caused a twofold decrease in both TER and claudin-11 mRNA expression, and resulted in the loss of both proteins from cell contacts. This effect was reversible following flutamide removal. It is concluded that androgens i) co-regulate claudin-11 mRNA expression and TER, implicating claudin-11 in TJ formation and ii) promote the localisation of claudin-11 and occludin at Sertoli cell contacts. Hence, the ability of androgens to maintain spermatogenesis in vivo is partly via their effects on TJ proteins and regulation of the blood–testis barrier.

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Nour Nicolas, Julie A Muir, Susan Hayward, Justin L Chen, Peter G Stanton, Paul Gregorevic, David M de Kretser, Kate L Loveland, Sudhanshu Bhushan, Andreas Meinhardt, Monika Fijak and Mark P Hedger

Experimental autoimmune orchitis (EAO) is a rodent model of chronic testicular inflammation that mimics the pathology observed in some types of human infertility. In a previous study, testicular expression of the inflammatory/immunoregulatory cytokine, activin A, was elevated in adult mice during the onset of EAO, indicating a potential role in the regulation of the disease. Consequently, we examined the development of EAO in mice with elevated levels of follistatin, an endogenous activin antagonist, as a potential therapeutic approach to testicular inflammation. Prior to EAO induction, mice received a single intramuscular injection of a non-replicative recombinant adeno-associated viral vector carrying a gene cassette of the circulating form of follistatin, FST315 (FST group). Serum follistatin levels were increased 5-fold in the FST group compared with the control empty vector (EV) group at 30 and 50 days of EAO, but intra-testicular levels of follistatin or activin A were not significantly altered. Induction of EAO was reduced, but not prevented, with mild-to-severe damage in 75% of the EV group and 40% of the FST group, at 50 days following immunisation with testicular homogenate. However, the EAO damage score (based on disruption of the blood–testis barrier, apoptosis, testicular damage and fibrosis) and extent of intratesticular inflammation (expression of inflammatory mediators) were directly proportional to the levels of activin A measured in the testis at 50 days. These data implicate activin A in the progression of EAO, thereby providing a potential therapeutic target; however, elevating circulating follistatin levels were not sufficient to prevent EAO development.