Role of β-catenin in post-meiotic male germ cell differentiation

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e28039. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028039. Epub 2011 Nov 18.


Though roles of β-catenin signaling during testis development have been well established, relatively little is known about its role in postnatal testicular physiology. Even less is known about its role in post-meiotic germ cell development and differentiation. Here, we report that β-catenin is highly expressed in post-meiotic germ cells and plays an important role during spermiogenesis in mice. Spermatid-specific deletion of β-catenin resulted in significantly reduced sperm count, increased germ cell apoptosis and impaired fertility. In addition, ultrastructural studies show that the loss of β-catenin in post-meiotic germ cells led to acrosomal defects, anomalous release of immature spermatids and disruption of adherens junctions between Sertoli cells and elongating spermatids (apical ectoplasmic specialization; ES). These defects are likely due to altered expression of several genes reportedly involved in Sertoli cell-germ cell adhesion and germ cell differentiation, as revealed by gene expression analysis. Taken together, our results suggest that β-catenin is an important molecular link that integrates Sertoli cell-germ cell adhesion with the signaling events essential for post-meiotic germ cell development and maturation. Since β-catenin is also highly expressed in the Sertoli cells, we propose that binding of germ cell β-catenin complex to β-catenin complex on Sertoli cell at the apical ES surface triggers a signaling cascade that regulates post-meiotic germ cell differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion / genetics
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Polarity / genetics
  • Cell Polarity / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Meiosis / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sertoli Cells / cytology
  • Sertoli Cells / metabolism
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics
  • Spermatogenesis / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / cytology*
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure
  • Time Factors
  • beta Catenin / genetics
  • beta Catenin / metabolism
  • beta Catenin / physiology*


  • beta Catenin

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE30773