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Lena Walenta, Nina Schmid, J Ullrich Schwarzer, Frank-Michael Köhn, Henryk F Urbanski, Rüdiger Behr, Leena Strauss, Matti Poutanen and Artur Mayerhofer

NLRP3 is part of the NLRP3 inflammasome and a global sensor of cellular damage. It was recently discovered in rodent Sertoli cells. We investigated NLRP3 in mouse, human and non-human primate (marmoset and rhesus macaque) testes, employing immunohistochemistry. Sertoli cells of all species expressed NLRP3, and the expression preceded puberty. In addition, peritubular cells of the adult human testes expressed NLRP3. NLRP3 and associated genes (PYCARD, CASP1, IL1B) were also found in isolated human testicular peritubular cells and the mouse Sertoli cell line TM4. Male infertility due to impairments of spermatogenesis may be related to sterile inflammatory events. We observed that the expression of NLRP3 was altered in the testes of patients suffering from mixed atrophy syndrome, in which tubules with impairments of spermatogenesis showed prominent NLRP3 staining. In order to explore a possible role of NLRP3 in male infertility, associated with sterile testicular inflammation, we studied a mouse model of male infertility. These human aromatase-expressing transgenic mice (AROM+) develop testicular inflammation and impaired spermatogenesis during aging, and the present data show that this is associated with strikingly elevated Nlrp3 expression in the testes compared to WT controls. Interference by aromatase inhibitor treatment significantly reduced increased Nlrp3 levels. Thus, throughout species NLRP3 is expressed by somatic cells of the testis, which are involved in testicular immune surveillance. We conclude that NLRP3 may be a novel player in testicular immune regulation.

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Nina Schmid, Annika Missel, Stoyan Petkov, Jan B Stöckl, Florian Flenkenthaler, Georg J Arnold, Thomas Fröhlich, Rüdiger Behr and Artur Mayerhofer

Testicular peritubular cells (TPCs) are smooth muscle-like cells, which form a compartment surrounding the seminiferous tubules. Previous studies employing isolated human testicular peritubular cells (HTPCs) indicated that their roles in the testis go beyond sperm transport and include paracrine and immunological contributions. Peritubular cells from a non-human primate (MKTPCs), the common marmoset monkey, Callithrix jacchus, share a high degree of homology with HTPCs. However, like their human counterparts these cells age in vitro and replicative senescence limits in-depth functional or mechanistic studies. Therefore, a stable cellular model was established. MKTPCs of a young adult animal were immortalized by piggyBac transposition of human telomerase (hTERT), that is, without the expression of viral oncogenes. Immortalized MKTPCs (iMKTPCs) grew without discernable changes for more than 50 passages. An initial characterization revealed typical genes expressed by peritubular cells (androgen receptor (AR), smooth-muscle actin (ACTA2), calponin (CNN1)). A proteome analysis of the primary MKTPCs and the derived immortalized cell line confirmed that the cells almost completely retained their phenotype. To test whether they respond in a similar way as HTPCs, iMKTPCs were challenged with forskolin (FSK) and ATP. As HTPCs, they showed increased expression level of the StAR protein (StAR) after FSK stimulation, indicating steroidogenic capacity. ATP increased the expression of pro-inflammatory factors (e.g. IL1B; CCL7), as it is the case in HTPCs. Finally, we confirmed that iMKTPCs can efficiently be transfected. Therefore, they represent a highly relevant translational model, which allows mechanistic studies for further exploration of the roles of testicular peritubular cells.