Regulation of blood–testis barrier dynamics by TGF-β3 is a Cdc42-dependent protein trafficking event

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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In the testis, the blood-testis barrier (BTB) is constituted by specialized junctions between adjacent Sertoli cells in the seminiferous epithelium near the basement membrane. Although the BTB is one of the tightest blood-tissue barriers in the mammalian body, it undergoes extensive restructuring at stage VIII of the seminiferous epithelial cycle to facilitate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes. Thus, meiosis and postmeiotic germ cell development take place in the seminiferous epithelium behind the BTB. Cytokines (e.g., TGF-β3) are known to regulate BTB dynamics by enhancing the endocytosis of integral membrane proteins and their intracellular degradation. This thus reduces the levels of proteins above the spermatocytes in transit at the BTB, causing its disruption after testosterone-induced new tight junction (TJ) fibrils are formed behind these cells. By using Sertoli cells cultured in vitro with an established TJ permeability barrier that mimicked the BTB in vivo, Cdc42 was shown to be a crucial regulator that mediated the TGF-β3-induced BTB disruption. TGF-β3 was shown to activate Cdc42 to its active GTP-bound form. However, an inactivation of Cdc42 by overexpressing its dominant-negative mutant T17N in Sertoli cell epithelium was shown to block the TGF-β3-induced acceleration in protein endocytosis. Consequently, this prevented the disruption of Sertoli cell TJ permeability barrier and redistribution of TJ proteins (e.g., CAR and ZO-1) from the cell-cell interface to cell cytosol caused by TGF-β3. In summary, Cdc42 is a crucial regulatory component in the TGF-β3-mediated cascade of events that leads to the disruption of the TJ fibrils above the preleptotene spermatocytes to facilitate their transit.