Retinoic acid receptor alpha (RARalpha)-deficient mice are sterile, with abnormalities in the progression of spermatogenesis and spermiogenesis. In this study, we investigated whether defective retinoid signaling involved at least in part, disrupted cell-cell interactions. Hypertonic fixation approaches revealed defects in the integrity of the Sertoli-cell barrier in the tubules of RARalpha-deficient testes. Dye transfer experiments further revealed that coupling between cells from the basal to adluminal compartments was aberrant. There were also differences in the expression of several known retinoic acid (RA)-responsive genes encoding structural components of tight junctions and gap junctions. Immunostaining demonstrated a delay in the incorporation of zonula occludens (ZO-1), a peripheral component protein of tight junctions, into the Sertoli cell tight junctions. Markedly reduced expression of connexin-40 in mutant pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids was found by in situ hybridization. An ectopic distribution of vimentin and disrupted cyclic expression of vimentin, which is usually tightly regulated during spermiogenesis, was found in RARalpha-deficient testes at all ages examined. Thus, the specific defects in spermiogenesis in RARalpha-deficient testes may correlate with a disrupted cyclic expression of RA-responsive structural components, including vimentin, a downregulation of connexin-40 in spermatogenic cells, and delayed assembly of ZO-1 into Sertoli cell tight junctions. Interestingly, bioinformatic analysis revealed that many genes that are components of tight junctions and gap junctions contained potential retinoic acid response element binding sites.
(c) 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.