Fer kinase/FerT and adherens junction dynamics in the testis: An in vitro and in vivo study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Fer kinase is a 94-kDa cytoplasmic cell-cell actin-based adherens junction (AJ)-associated nonreceptor protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) found in multiple epithelia including the testis, whereas FerT kinase (51 kDa) is the truncated testis-specific form of Fer kinase, lacking the Fps/Fes/Fer/CIP4 (products of oncogenes identified in avian and feline sarcoma, encoding tyrosine protein kinases) and the three coiled-coil domains versus Fer kinase. Yet the role(s) of Fer kinase in AJ dynamics in the testis remains largely unexplored. We have used an in vitro model of AJ assembly with Sertoli-germ cell cocultures and an in vivo model of AJ disassembly in which adult rats were treated with 1-(2,4-dichlorobenzyl)-indazole-3-carbohydrazide (AF-2364) to study changes in the expression and/or localization of Fer kinase during AJ restructuring. Fer kinase/FerT was expressed by Sertoli and germ cells when cultured in vitro. Using an antibody prepared against a synthetic peptide, NH2-SAPQNCPEEIFTIMMKCWDYK-COOH, corresponding to residues 779-799 of Fer kinase in the rat, which failed to cross-react with FerT kinase, for immunohistochemistry, Fer kinase was detected in the seminiferous epithelium in virtually all stages of the epithelial cycle. At stages XIII-VI, Fer kinase was associated largely with round and elongating spermatids. At stages VII-VIII, Fer kinase associated almost exclusively with round spermatids with very weak staining associated with elongated spermatids. This stage-specific localization of Fer kinase in the epithelium was confirmed by using staged tubules for semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Studies by immunoprecipitation revealed that Fer kinase associated with N-cadherin, γ-catenin, p120ctn, c-Src (a putative PTK and the product of the transforming, sarcoma-inducing gene of Rous sarcoma virus), Rab 8 (a GTPase), actin, vimentin, but not E-cadherin, afadin, nectin-3, and integrin β1, suggesting Fer kinase associates not only with the actin-based cell-cell AJ structures, such as the N-cadherin/catenin complex (but not the α6β1 integrin/laminin and the afadin/nectin complex), but also with intermediate filament-based cell-cell desmosomes. An induction in Fer kinase expression was detected during Sertoli-germ cell AJ assembly in vitro but not during AF-2364-induced AJ disruption in vivo. Yet this AF-2364-induced Fer kinase plummeting associated with an induction in N-cadherin, β-catenin, and p120ctn, particularly at the base of the seminiferous epithelium. In summary, Fer kinase structurally associates with the N-cadherin/catenin protein complex in the testis and can possibly be used to mediate signaling function via the cadherin/catenin protein complex.