In the testis, spermatogenesis is a highly regulated process that includes germ cell multiplication and differentiation supported by Sertoli cells. Gap junction intercellular communication (GJIC), that is known to play an important role in the control of cell proliferation and differentiation, allows communication between adjacent cells. Gap junctions are present within the seminiferous epithelium but the precise nature of coupled cells is not yet identified. By applying a dye-transfer assay to testis, we demonstrated that coupling was basally located in the tubular compartment between adjacent Sertoli cells, between Sertoli cells and spermatogonia and early and late spermatocytes, but not between Sertoli cells and spermatids. Furthermore, no dye transfer occurred from germ cells to Sertoli cells. Specificity of the gap junction coupling was verified with known gap junction inhibitors such as oleamide, heptanol, and glycyrrhetinic acid. We developed a sophisticated assay that allows correlating the in vivo dye transfer with cell morphological identification and Cx43 expression. This approach demonstrated the Cx43 participation in the coupling. Interestingly Cx43 expression and dye-coupling varied with the stages of spermatogenesis. Our results suggest that Cx43 based gap junctions form a transversal and longitudinal intercellular communication network within seminiferous tubules, and that specific communication territories are formed within the seminiferous tubules to ensure the synchronization of germ cell proliferation and differentiation.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.