Connexin 43 is critical to maintain the homeostasis of the blood–testis barrier via its effects on tight junction reassembly

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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In mammalian testes, the blood-testis barrier (BTB) or Sertoli cell barrier created by specialized junctions between Sertoli cells near the basement membrane confers an immunological barrier by sequestering the events of meiotic division and postmeiotic germ cell development from the systemic circulation. The BTB is constituted by coexisting tight junctions (TJs), basal ectoplasmic specializations, desmosomes, and gap junctions. Despite being one of the tightest blood-tissue barriers, the BTB has to restructure cyclically during spermatogenesis. A recent study showed that gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43) and desmosome protein plakophilin-2 are working synergistically to modulate the BTB integrity by regulating the distribution of TJ-associated proteins at the Sertoli-Sertoli cell interface. However, the precise role of Cx43 in regulating the cyclical restructuring of junctions remains obscure. In this report, the calcium switch and the bisphenol A (BPA) models were used to induce junction restructuring in primary cultures of Sertoli cells isolated from rat testes that formed a TJ-permeability barrier that mimicked the BTB in vivo. The removal of calcium by EGTA perturbed the Sertoli cell tight junction barrier, but calcium repletion allowed the "resealing" of the disrupted barrier. However, a knockdown of Cx43 in Sertoli cells by RNAi significantly reduced the kinetics of TJ-barrier resealing. These observations were confirmed using the bisphenol A model in which the knockdown of Cx43 by RNAi also perturbed the TJ-barrier reassembly following BPA removal. In summary, Cx43 is crucial for TJ reassembly at the BTB during its cyclic restructuring throughout the seminiferous epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis.