The mammalian blood–testis barrier: Its biology and regulation

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Spermatogenesis is the cellular process by which spermatogonia develop into mature spermatids within seminiferous tubules, the functional unit of the mammalian testis, under the structural and nutritional support of Sertoli cells and the precise regulation of endocrine factors. As germ cells develop, they traverse the seminiferous epithelium, a process that involves restructuring of Sertoli–germ cell junctions, as well as Sertoli–Sertoli cell junctions at the blood–testis barrier. The blood–testis barrier, one of the tightest tissue barriers in the mammalian body, divides the seminiferous epithelium into two compartments, basal and adluminal. The blood–testis barrier is different from most other tissue barriers in that it is not only comprised of tight junctions. Instead, tight junctions co-exist and co-function with ectoplasmic specializations, desmosomes, and gap junctions to create a unique microenvironment for the completion of meiosis. Studies from the past decade or so have identified the key structural, scaffolding, and signaling proteins of the blood–testis barrier. More recent studies have defined the regulatory mechanisms that underlie blood–testis barrier function. We review herein the biology and regulation of the mammalian blood–testis barrier and highlight research areas that should be expanded in future studies.