Secreted Frizzled-related protein 1 (sFRP1) regulates spermatid adhesion in the testis via dephosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase and the nectin-3 adhesion protein complex

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Development of spermatozoa in adult mammalian testis during spermatogenesis involves extensive cell migration and differentiation. Spermatogonia that reside at the basal compartment of the seminiferous epithelium differentiate into more advanced germ cell types that migrate toward the apical compartment until elongated spermatids are released into the tubule lumen during spermiation. Apical ectoplasmic specialization (ES; a testis-specific anchoring junction) is the only cell junction that anchors and maintains the polarity of elongating/elongated spermatids (step 8–19 spermatids) in the epithelium. Little is known regarding the signaling pathways that trigger the disassembly of the apical ES at spermiation. Here, we show that secreted Frizzled-related protein 1 (sFRP1), a putative tumor suppressor gene that is frequently down-regulated in multiple carcinomas, is a crucial regulatory protein for spermiation. The expression of sFRP1 is tightly regulated in adult rat testis to control spermatid adhesion and sperm release at spermiation. Down-regulation of sFRP1 during testicular development was found to coincide with the onset of the first wave of spermiation at approximately age 45 d postpartum, implying that sFRP1 might be correlated with elongated spermatid adhesion conferred by the apical ES before spermiation. Indeed, administration of sFRP1 recombinant protein to the testis in vivo delayed spermiation, which was accompanied by down-regulation of phosphorylated (p)-focal adhesion kinase (FAK)-Tyr^397 and retention of nectin-3 adhesion protein at the apical ES. To further investigate the functional relationship between p-FAK-Tyr^397 and localization of nectin-3, we overexpressed sFRP1 using lentiviral vectors in the Sertoli-germ cell coculture system. Consistent with the in vivo findings, overexpression of sFRP1 induced down-regulation of p-FAK-Tyr^397, leading to a decline in phosphorylation of nectin-3. In summary, this report highlights the critical role of sFRP1 in regulating spermiation via its effects on the FAK signaling and retention of nectin-3 adhesion complex at the apical ES.