The blood-testis barrier and Sertoli cell junctions: structural considerations

Microsc Res Tech. 1992 Jan 1;20(1):3-33. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1070200104.


In this review, a few well-established axioms have been challenged while others were viewed from a new perspective. The extensive literature on the blood-testis barrier has been scrutinized to help probe its mechanics and hopefully to promote understanding of the constant adaptation of the barrier function to germ cell development. Our principal conclusions are as follows: (1) Although the barrier zonule is topographically located at the base of the seminiferous epithelium it actually encircles the apex of the Sertoli cell. Consequently the long irregular processes specialized in holding and shaping the developing germ cells should be considered as apical appendages analogous to microvilli. (2) The development of the barrier zonule does not coincide with the appearance of a particular class of germ cells. (3) The barrier compartmentalizes the epithelium into only two cellular compartments: basal and lumenal. (4) Although the blood-testis barrier does sequester germ cells usually considered antigenic, immunoregulator factors other than the physical barrier seem to be involved in preventing autoimmune orchitis. (5) Structurally, a Sertoli cell junctional complex is composed of occluding, gap, close, and adhering junctions. The Sertoli cell membrane segments facing germ cells are presumably included in the continuum of the Sertoli cell junctional complex that extends all over the lateral and apical Sertoli cell membranes. (6) The modulation (i.e., formation and dismantling) of the junctions in a baso-apical direction is characteristic of the seminiferous epithelium and may be dictated by germ cell differentiation. The formation of tubulobulbar complexes and the following internalization of junction vesicles conceivably represent sequential steps of a single intricate junction elimination process that involves junction membrane segments from different cell types as part of a continual cell membrane recycling system. (7) The preferential association of junctional particles with one or the other fracture-face reflect a response to various stimuli including seasonal breeding. Changes in the affinity of the particles are generally coincidental with cytoskeletal changes. However, changes in the cytoskeleton are not necessarily accompanied by permeability changes. The number of strands seems to reflect neither the junctional permeability nor the transepithelial resistance. The diverse orientation of the strands seems to be related to the plasticity of the Sertoli cell occluding zonule. (8) Cooperation between all constituents (Sertoli cells, myoid cells, cell substratum, and germ cells) of the epithelium seems essential for the barrier zonule to function in synchrony with the germ cell differentiation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Testis Barrier*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / ultrastructure
  • Freeze Fracturing
  • Germ Cells / ultrastructure
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Seminiferous Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Sertoli Cells / ultrastructure*


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules