Interactions of laminin β3 fragment with β1-integrin receptor: A revisit of the apical ectoplasmic specialization-blood–testis-barrier-hemidesmosome functional axis in the testis

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Recent studies have demonstrated the presence of a functional axis that coordinates the events of spermiation and blood–testis barrier (BTB) restructuring which take place simultaneously at the opposite ends of the seminiferous epithelium at stage VIII of the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis in the rat testis. In short, the disruption of the apical ectoplasmic specialization (apical ES) at the Sertoli cell-elongated spermatid interface, which facilitates the release of sperm at spermiation near the tubule lumen, is coordinated with restructuring at the BTB to accommodate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes across the immunological barrier near the basement membrane. These two events are likely coordinated by a functional axis involving hemidesmosome at the Sertoli cell-basement membrane interface, and it was designated the apical ES-BTB-hemidesmosome axis. It was demonstrated that fragments of laminin chains (e.g., laminin β3 or γ3 chains) derived from the α6β1-integrin-laminin333 protein complex at the apical ES, which were likely generated via the action of MMP-2 (matrix metalloprotease-2, MMP2) prior to spermiation, acted as biologically active peptides to perturb the BTB permeability function by accelerating protein endocytosis (e.g., occludin) at the site, thereby destabilizing the BTB integrity to facilitate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes. These laminin fragments also perturbed hemidesmosome function via their action on β1-integrin, a component of hemidesmosome in the testis, which in turn, sent a signal to further destabilize the BTB function. As such, the events of spermiation and BTB restructuring are coordinated via this functional axis. Recent studies using animal models treated with toxicants, such as mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), or adjudin, a male contraceptive under investigation, have also supported the presence of this functional axis in the mouse. In this short review, we critically evaluate the role of this local functional axis in the seminiferous epithelium in spermatogenesis. We also provide molecular modeling information on the interactions between biologically active laminin fragments and β1-integrin, which will be important to assist in the design of more potent laminin-based peptides to disrupt this axis, thereby perturbing spermatogenesis for male contraception and to understand the underlying biology that coordinates spermiation and BTB restructuring during spermatogenesis.