Mitogen-activated protein kinases, adherens junction dynamics, and spermatogenesis: A review of recent data

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) are important regulators of many cellular processes. In mammalian testes, these kinases are involved in controlling cell division, differentiation, survival and death, and are therefore critical to spermatogenesis. Recent studies have also illustrated their involvement in junction restructuring in the seminiferous epithelium, especially at the ectoplasmic specialization (ES), a testis-specific adherens junction (AJ) type. ES contributes to the adhesion between Sertoli cells at the blood-testis barrier, as well as between Sertoli and developing spermatids (step 9 and beyond) at the adluminal compartment. MAPKs regulate AJ dynamics in the testis via their effects on the turnover of junction-associated protein complexes, the production of proteases and protease inhibitors, and the cytoskeleton structure. In this review, roles of the three major MAPK members, namely extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and p38 MAPK, in ES dynamics are critically discussed. An integrated model of how these three MAPKs regulate adhesion function in the seminiferous epithelium is also presented. This model will serve as the framework for future investigation in the field.