Differential effects of testosterone and TGF-β3 on endocytic vesicle-mediated protein trafficking events at the blood–testis barrier

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The intricate interaction between protein endocytosis, transcytosis, recycling and endosome- or ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation determines the junction integrity in epithelial cells including Sertoli cells at the blood-testis barrier (BTB). Studies have shown that androgens and cytokines (e.g., TGF-Β3) that are known to promote and disrupt BTB integrity, respectively, accelerate protein endocytosis at the BTB. We hypothesized that testosterone-induced endocytosed proteins are transcytosed and recycled back to the Sertoli cell surface, whereas cytokine-induced endocytosed proteins are degraded so that androgens and cytokines have opposing effects on BTB integrity. Herein, we report that both testosterone and TGF-Β3 induced the steady-state level of clathrin, an endocytic vesicle protein. Testosterone and TGF-Β3 also induced the association between internalized occludin (a BTB integral membrane protein) and clathrin, as well as early endosome antigen-1 (EEA-1). Interestingly, testosterone, but not TGF-Β3, also induced the levels of proteins that regulate protein transcytosis (e.g., caveolin-1) and recycling (e.g., Rab11), and their association with internalized occludin and N-cadherin from the cell surface. In contrast, TGF-Β3, but not testosterone, induced the level of ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme E2 J1 (Ube2j1), a protein crucial to the intracellular protein degradation pathway, and its association with internalized occludin. Based on these findings and recent reports in the field, we hypothesize that the concerted effects of testosterone and TGF-Β3 likely facilitate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes at the BTB while maintaining the immunological barrier in that testosterone induces the assembly of "new" tight junction (TJ)-fibrils below migrating spermatocytes via protein transcytosis and recycling before cytokines induce the disassembly of "old" TJ-fibrils above spermatocytes via endocytic vesicle-mediated degradation of internalized proteins. This thus provides a unique mechanism in the testis to facilitate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes, many of which are connected in "clones" via cytoplasmic bridges, at the BTB while maintaining the immunological barrier during stage VIII of the seminiferous epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis.