Sertoli-germ cell junctions in the testis: A review of recent data

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Spermatogenesis is a process that involves an array of cellular and biochemical events, collectively culminating in the formation of haploid spermatids from diploid precursor cells known as spermatogonia. As germ cells differentiate from spermatogonia into elongated spermatids, they also progressively migrate across the entire length of the seminiferous epithelium until they reach the luminal edge in anticipation of spermiation at late stage VIII of spermatogenesis. At the same time, these germ cells must maintain stable attachment with Sertoli cells via testis-unique intermediate filament- (i.e. desmosome-like junctions) and actin- (i.e. ectoplasmic specializations, ESs) based cell junctions to prevent sloughing of immature germ cells from the seminiferous epithelium, which may result in infertility. In essence, both desmosome-like junctions and basal ESs are known to coexist between Sertoli cells at the level of the blood-testis barrier where they cofunction with the well-studied tight junction in maintaining the immunological barrier. However, the type of anchoring device that is present between Sertoli and germ cells depends on the developmental stage of the germ cell, i.e. desmosome-like junctions are present between Sertoli and germ cells up to, but not including, step 8 spermatids after which this junction type is replaced by the apical ES. While little is known about the biology of the desmosome-like junction in the testis, we have a relatively good understanding of the molecular architecture and the regulation of the ES. Here, we discuss recent findings relating to these two junction types in the testis, highlighting prospective areas that should be investigated in future studies.