Environmental toxicants and male reproductive function

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Article (peer-reviewed)

Publication Date



Environmental toxicants, such as cadmium and bisphenol A (BPA) are endocrine disruptors. In utero, perinatal or neonatal exposure of BPA to rats affect the male reproductive function, such as the blood-testis barrier (BTB) integrity. This effect of BPA on BTB integrity in immature rats is likely mediated via a loss of gap junction function at the BTB, failing to coordinate tight junction and anchoring junction function at the site to maintain the immunological barrier integrity. This in turn activates the extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2 (Erk1/2) downstream and an increase in protein endocytosis, destabilizing the BTB. The cadmium-induced disruption of testicular dysfunction is mediated initially via its effects on the occludin/ZO-1/focal adhesion kinase (FAK) complex at the BTB, causing redistribution of proteins at the Sertoli-Sertoli cell interface, leading to the BTB disruption. The damaging effects of these toxicants to testicular function are mediated by mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) downstream, which in turn perturbs the actin bundling and accelerates the actin-branching activity, causing disruption of the Sertoli cell tight junction (TJ)-barrier function at the BTB and perturbing spermatid adhesion at the apical ectoplasmic specialization (apical ES, a testis-specific anchoring junction type) that leads to premature release of germ cells from the testis. However, the use of specific inhibitors against MAPK was shown to block or delay the cadmium-induced testicular injury, such as BTB disruption and germ cell loss. These findings suggest that there may be a common downstream p38 and/or Erk1/2 MAPK-based signaling pathway involving polarity proteins and actin regulators that is shared between different toxicants that induce male reproductive dysfunction. As such, the use of inhibitors and/or antagonists against specific MAPKs can possibly be used to “manage” the illnesses caused by these toxicants and/or “protect” industrial workers being exposed to high levels of these toxicants in their work environment.






The Biology of Blood–Testis Barrier Dynamics