Male factor infertility is a problem in today's society but many underlying causes are still unknown. The generation of a conditional Sertoli cell (SC)-specific connexin 43 (Cx43) knockout mouse line (SCCx43KO) has provided a translational model. Expression of the gap junction protein Cx43 between adjacent SCs as well as between SCs and germ cells (GCs) is known to be essential for the initiation and maintenance of spermatogenesis in different species and men. Adult SCCx43KO males show altered spermatogenesis and are infertile. Thus, the present study aims to identify molecular mechanisms leading to testicular alterations in prepubertal SCCx43KO mice. Transcriptome analysis of 8-, 10- and 12-day-old mice was performed by next-generation sequencing (NGS). Additionally, candidate genes were examined by qRT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. NGS revealed many significantly differentially expressed genes in the SCCx43KO mice. For example, GCspecific genes were mostly downregulated and found to be involved in meiosis and spermatogonial differentiation (e.g., Dmrtb1, Sohlh1). In contrast, SC-specific genes implicated in SC maturation and proliferation were mostly upregulated (e.g., Amh, Fshr). In conclusion, Cx43 in SCs appears to be required for normal progression of the first wave of spermatogenesis, especially for the mitosis-meiosis switch, and also for the regulation of prepubertal SC maturation.
Keywords: Cx43; NGS; Sertoli cell maturation; impaired spermatogenesis; mitosis-meiosis switch.