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Stephen Banks, Sasha A King, D Stewart Irvine, and Philippa T K Saunders

An increase in scrotal temperature can lead to the production of poor quality spermatozoa and infertility. In the present study we have used mice to examine the impact of mild, scrotal heat stress (42 °C for 30 min) on numbers of spermatozoa as well as on the integrity of their DNA. Spermatozoa recovered from the epididymides hours (1 to 24) or days (7 to 32) after treatment were analysed using COMET and sperm chromatin structure (SCSA) assays. The treatment induced a stress response in both the testis and the epididymis that was associated with reduced expression of the cold inducible RNA binding protein (Cirp) and an increase in germ cell apoptosis (Apotag positive cells). Although spermatozoa present in the epididymis at the time of heating contained correctly packaged DNA, its integrity was compromised by heat stress. In addition, although some germ cells, which were present within the testis at the time of heat stress, were removed by apoptosis, many germ cells completed their development and were recovered as motile spermatozoa with damaged DNA. In conclusion, these data demonstrate that scrotal heat stress can compromise the DNA integrity of spermatozoa and this may have clinical implications for patients undergoing IVF and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

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Catriona Paul, Alison A Murray, Norah Spears, and Philippa T K Saunders

Infertility represents a major clinical problem and 50% of cases are attributable to the male partner. Testicular function is temperature dependent, and in both man and mouse the position of the testes in the scrotum ensures that they are kept at between 2 and 8 °C below core body temperature. We used a mouse model to investigate the impact of a single, transient, mild, scrotal heat stress (38, 40 or 42 °C for 30 min) on testicular function, sperm DNA integrity and embryo survival. We detected temperature-dependent changes in testicular architecture, number of apoptotic cells and a significant reduction in testis weight 7 and 14 days after heat stress at 42 °C. We report for the first time that DNA strand breaks (γ-H2AX-positive foci) were present in spermatocytes recovered from testes subjected to 40 or 42 °C. Fertility of heat-stressed males was tested 23–28 d after treatment (sperm at this time would have been spermatocytes at time of heating). Paternal heat stress at 42 °C resulted in reduced pregnancy rate, placental weight and litter size; pregnancies from the 40 °C group had increased resorptions at e14.5. Abnormalities in embryonic development were detected at e3.5 and in vitro fertilisation with sperm recovered 16 h or 23 d after scrotal stress at 42 °C revealed a block in development between the 4-cell and blastocyst stages. This study has provided evidence of temperature-dependent effects on germ cell DNA integrity and highlighted the importance of an intact paternal genome for normal embryo development.

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Gillian Cowan, Andrew J Childs, Richard A Anderson, and Philippa T K Saunders

The somatic (Sertoli cell (SC), Leydig cell (LC), and peritubular myoid (PTM) cell) cells play key roles in development of the fetal testis. We established monolayer cultures from second trimester human testes and investigated the pattern of expression of cell-lineage characteristic mRNAs. Expression of some SC-associated genes (SRY, SOX9, WT1, GATA4, and SF1) was detectable up to and including passage 3 (P3), while others (anti-Müllerian hormone; desert hedgehog) present prior to dissociation were not expressed in the cultured cells. Transcripts encoding the androgen receptor were expressed but addition of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) had no impact on expression of mRNAs expressed in SC or LC. Total concentrations of mRNAs encoding smooth muscle actin (ACTA2) and desmin increased from P1 to P3; an increasing proportion of the cells in the cultures were immunopositive for ACTA2 consistent with proliferation/differentiation of PTM cells. In conclusion, somatic cell monolayer cultures were established from human fetal testes; these cultures could form the basis for future studies based on isolation of purified populations of somatic cells and manipulation of gene expression that is difficult to achieve with organ culture systems. Our results suggest that fetal SC do not maintain a fully differentiated phenotype in vitro, yet PTM (ACTA2 positive) cells readily adapt to monolayer culture conditions in the presence of DHT. This culture system provides an opportunity to study the impact of regulatory factors on gene expression in PTM cells, a population thought to play a key role in mediating androgen action within the developing testis.

Open access

Iain J McEwan, Dagmara McGuinness, Colin W Hay, Robert P Millar, Philippa T K Saunders, and Hamish M Fraser

The androgen receptor (AR) is a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily, and is important for both male and female reproductive health. The receptor is a target for a number of post-translational modifications including phosphorylation, which has been intensively studied in vitro. However, little is known about the phosphorylation status of the receptor in target tissues in vivo. The common marmoset is a useful model for studying human reproductive functions, and comparison of the AR primary sequence from this primate shows high conservation of serines known to be phosphorylated in the human receptor and corresponding flanking amino acids. We have used a panel of phosphospecific antibodies to study AR phosphorylation in the marmoset ovary throughout the follicular phase and after treatment with GNRH antagonist or testosterone propionate. In normal follicular phase ovaries, total AR (both phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms) immunopositive staining was observed in several cell types including granulosa cells of developing follicles, theca cells and endothelial cells lining blood vessels. Receptor phosphorylation at serines 81, 308, and 650 was detected primarily in the granulosa cells of developing follicles, surface epithelium, and vessel endothelial cells. Testosterone treatment lead to a modest increase in AR staining in all stages of follicle studied, while GNRH antagonist had no effect. Neither treatment significantly altered the pattern of phosphorylation compared to the control group. These results demonstrate that phosphorylation of the AR occurs, at a subset of serine residues, in a reproductive target tissue in vivo, which appears refractory to hormonal manipulations.

Free access

Cleida A Oliveira, Germán A B Mahecha, Kay Carnes, Gail S Prins, Philippa T K Saunders, Luiz R França, and Rex A Hess

Estrogen receptors, in addition to the androgen receptor (AR), are expressed at high levels in efferent ductules of the male reproductive tract and it is now well recognized that estrogen receptor (ER) α is required for the maintenance of normal structure and function of the ductules. However, little is known regarding the hormonal regulation of the receptors themselves in the male. In the present study, efferent ductule ligation and castration, followed by replacement with testosterone, dihydro-testosterone (DHT) or estradiol was used to investigate the relative importance of circulating and luminal sources of steroid for the modulation of ERα, ERβ and AR in rat efferent ductules. Uni- or bilateral castration and ligation did not affect the expression of ERα and ERβ, but bilateral castration caused down-regulation of AR. Replacement with DHT and testosterone alone or in combination with estradiol caused the recovery of AR expression to control levels. A slight recovery of AR was also observed after estrogen replacement. ERα expression was decreased to nearly undetectable levels after estrogen replacement. On the other hand, ERβ did not show evident effects following any of the treatments, suggesting a constitutive expression of this receptor. This differential modulation of the steroid hormone receptors highlights the importance of maintaining a physiological androgen-estrogen balance to regulate the structure and function of efferent ductules in the male.