NC1 domain of collagen α3(IV) derived from the basement membrane regulates Sertoli cell blood-testis barrier dynamics

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The blood–testis barrier (BTB) is an important ultrastructure for spermatogenesis. Delay in BTB formation in neonatal rats or its irreversible damage in adult rats leads to meiotic arrest and failure of spermatogonial differentiation beyond type A. While hormones, such as testosterone and FSH, are crucial to BTB function, little is known if there is a local regulatory mechanism in the seminiferous epithelium that modulates BTB function. Herein, we report that collagen α3(IV) chain, a component of the basement membrane in the rat testis, could generate a noncollagenous (NC1) domain peptide [Colα3(IV) NC1] via limited proteolysis by matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), and that the expression of MMP-9 was upregulated by TNFα. While recombinant Colα3(IV) NC1 protein produced in E. coli failed to perturb Sertoli cell tight junction (TJ)-permeability barrier function, possibly due to the lack of glycosylation, Colα3(IV) NC1 recombinant protein produced in mammalian cells and purified to apparent homogeneity by affinity chromatography was found to reversibly perturb the Sertoli cell TJ-barrier function. Interestingly, Colα3(IV) NC1 recombinant protein did not perturb the steadystate levels of several TJ- (e.g., occludin, CAR, JAM-A, ZO-1) and basal ectoplasmic specialization- (e.g., N-cadherin, α-catenin, β-catenin) proteins at the BTB but induced changes in protein localization and/or distribution at the Sertoli cell-cell interface in which these proteins moved from the cell surface into the cell cytosol, thereby destabilizing the TJ function. These findings illustrate the presence of a local regulatory axis known as the BTB-basement membrane axis that regulates BTB restructuring during spermatogenesis.