Fascin - An actin binding and bundling protein in the testis and its role in ectoplasmic specialization dynamics

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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In the mammalian testis such as in rats, a unique actin-rich cell-cell adherens junction (AJ) known as ectoplasmic specialization (ES) is found in the seminiferous epithelium. ES is conspicuously found between Sertoli cells near the basement membrane known as the basal ES, which together with tight junction (TJ), gap junction, and desmosome constitute the blood-testis barrier (BTB). The BTB, in turn, anatomically divides the seminiferous epithelium into the basal and the adluminal (apical) compartment. On the other hand, ES is also found at the Sertoli-spermatid interface known as apical ES which is the only anchoring device for developing step 8–19 spermatids during spermiogenesis. One of the most typical features of the ES is the array of actin microfilament bundles that lie perpendicular to the Sertoli cell plasma membrane and are sandwiched in-between the cisternae of endoplasmic reticulum and the Sertoli cell plasma membrane. While these actin filament bundles confer the adhesive strength of Sertoli cells at the BTB and also spermatids in the adluminal compartment, they must be rapidly re-organized from their bundled to unbundled/branched configuration and vice versa to provide plasticity to the ES so that preleptotene spermatocytes and spermatids can be transported across the immunological barrier and the adluminal compartment, respectively, during the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis. Fascin is a family of actin microfilament cross-linking and bundling proteins that is known to confer bundling of parallel actin microfilaments in mammalian cells. A recent report has illustrated the significance of a fascin protein called fascin 1 in actin microfilaments at the ES, pertinent to its role in spermatogenesis (Gungor-Ordueri et al. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 307, E738-753, 2004, DOI:10.1152/ajpendo.00113.2014). In this Commentary, we critically evaluate these findings in light of the role of fascin in other mammalian cells, providing some insightful information for future investigations.