Histological analysis revealed that Sertoli cell specific knockout of the predominant testicular gap junction protein connexin 43 results in a spermatogenic arrest at the level of spermatogonia or Sertoli cell-only syndrome, intratubular cell clusters and still proliferating adult Sertoli cells, implying an important role for connexin 43 in the Sertoli and germ cell development. This study aimed to determine the (1) Sertoli cell maturation state, (2) time of occurrence and (3) composition, differentiation and fate of clustered cells in knockout mice. Using immunohistochemistry connexin 43 deficient Sertoli cells showed an accurate start of the mature markers androgen receptor and GATA-1 during puberty and a vimentin expression from neonatal to adult. Expression of anti-Muellerian hormone, as a marker of Sertoli cell immaturity, was finally down-regulated during puberty, but its disappearance was delayed. This observed extended anti-Müllerian hormone synthesis during puberty was confirmed by western blot and Real-Time PCR and suggests a partial alteration in the Sertoli cell differentiation program. Additionally, Sertoli cells of adult knockouts showed a permanent and uniform expression of GATA-1 at protein and mRNA level, maybe caused by the lack of maturing germ cells and missing negative feedback signals. At ultrastructural level, basally located adult Sertoli cells obtained their mature appearance, demonstrated by the tripartite nucleolus as a typical feature of differentiated Sertoli cells. Intratubular clustered cells were mainly formed by abnormal Sertoli cells and single attached apoptotic germ cells, verified by immunohistochemistry, TUNEL staining and transmission electron microscopy. Clusters first appeared during puberty and became more numerous in adulthood with increasing cell numbers per cluster suggesting an age-related process. In conclusion, adult connexin 43 deficient Sertoli cells seem to proliferate while maintaining expression of mature markers and their adult morphology, indicating a unique and abnormal intermediate phenotype with characteristics common to both undifferentiated and differentiated Sertoli cells.
Copyright © 2011 International Society of Differentiation. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.