Blockage of testicular connexins induced apoptosis in rat seminiferous epithelium

Apoptosis. 2006 Jul;11(7):1215-29. doi: 10.1007/s10495-006-6981-2.


Spermatogenesis, a tightly regulated developmental process of male germ cells in testis, is associated with temporal and spatial expression of gap junction proteins, such as the connexin family members. Perturbation of their expressions may lead to spermatogenic arrest as manifested by disruption of cell-cell interaction. To explore the role(s) of connexins during spermatogenesis, we utilized the small peptide antagonistic approach to specifically deplete connexin 31, connexin 33, and pan-connexin. Three connexin peptides corresponding to the extracellular binding domain of connexin 31 and connexin 33 and to the extracellular conserved domain of connexins were designed and synthesized commercially. Peptides (at single dosage of 0.5, 1, or 2 mg per animal) were injected into rat testes and testes were collected on day 0, 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, and 30 after microinjection. In situ TUNEL assay demonstrated the induction of apoptosis in the testes after pan-connexin peptide treatment in a dose-dependent manner from day 3 and onward. Unlike the pan-connexin peptide, connexin 31 and connexin 33 peptides appeared to have little effect on inducing apoptosis and germ cell loss. CD45 staining also detected the occasional presence of infiltrating lymphocytes in the seminiferous tubules. Accompanied with the apoptotic events, two apoptotic markers, NF-kappaB and caspase 3, demonstrated a general up-regulation in their expressions. In adjacent testis sections, eliminations of connexin 31, 32, and 43 were observed. However, an induction of connexin 33 expression was detected. This suggests the versatility and functional diversity of connexins in the testis. The expression of ZO-1, the only known adaptor of connexins in the testis, was reduced and remained in a low level in the seminiferous epithelium. As such, the alterations of connexins in seminiferous epithelium may induce apoptotic signaling in the testis via the caspase 3 and the NF-kappaB pathway. This demonstrates the significant role of testicular connexins to maintain the survival of germ cells by regulating inter-cellular communications among germ cells and adjacent supporting cells during spermatogenesis. In addition, the inter-relationship between connexins and other junction proteins and associated signaling protein were investigated. After pan-connexin peptide treatment, a dys-localization of N-cadherin, an adherens junction protein, and diminution of occludin, a tight junction protein, level were detected. In addition, inductions of junction regulatory protein, cathepsin L, was observed during the course of peptide-mediated germ cell loss in the testes. In summary, pan-connexin peptide treatment triggered apoptosis and germ cell loss in the testes. This event influenced the localization and expression of different junction proteins and junction-associated protein in the testes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cathepsin L
  • Cathepsins / metabolism
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism
  • Connexins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Connexins / metabolism
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Occludin
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Seminiferous Epithelium / cytology
  • Seminiferous Epithelium / drug effects*
  • Seminiferous Epithelium / metabolism
  • Testis / cytology
  • Testis / drug effects
  • Testis / metabolism
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein


  • Cadherins
  • Connexin 43
  • Connexins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • NF-kappa B
  • OCLN protein, human
  • Occludin
  • Ocln protein, mouse
  • Ocln protein, rat
  • Peptides
  • Phosphoproteins
  • TJP1 protein, human
  • Tjp1 protein, mouse
  • Tjp1 protein, rat
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein
  • connexin 32
  • GJB3 protein, human
  • Gja6 protein, rat
  • Cathepsins
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Casp3 protein, mouse
  • Casp3 protein, rat
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • CTSL protein, human
  • Cathepsin L
  • Ctsl protein, mouse
  • Ctsl protein, rat