Actin binding proteins, actin cytoskeleton and spermatogenesis—Lesson from toxicant models

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Actin cytoskeleton is crucial to support spermatogenesis in the mammalian testis. However, the molecular mechanism(s) underlying changes of actin cytoskeletal organization in response to cellular events that take place across the seminiferous epithelium (e.g., self-renewal of spermatogonial stem cells, germ cell differentiation, meosis, spermiogenesis, spermiation) at specific stages of the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis remain largely unexplored. This, at least in part, is due to the lack of suitable study models to identify the crucial regulatory proteins and to investigate how these proteins work in concert to support actin dynamics. Much of the information on the role of actin binding proteins in the literature, namely the actin bundling proteins, actin nucleation proteins and motor proteins, are either findings based on genetic models or morphological analyses. While this information is helpful to delineate the function of these proteins to support spermatogenesis, they are not helpful to identify the regulatory signaling proteins, the signaling pathways and the cascade of events to modulate actin cytoskeleton dynamics. Recent studies based on the use of toxicant models, both in vitro and in vivo, however, have bridged this gap by identifying putative regulatory and signaling proteins of actin cytoskeleton. Herein, we summarize and critically evaluate these findings. We also provide a hypothetical model by which actin cytoskeletal dynamics in Sertoli cells are regulated, which in turn supports spermatid transport across the seminiferous epithelium, and at the blood-testis barrier (BTB) during the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis.