STUDY QUESTION Are Sertoli cell tight junctions (TJs) disrupted in men undergoing hormonal contraception? SUMMARY ANSWER Localization of the key Sertoli cell TJ protein, claudin-11, was markedly disrupted by 8 weeks of gonadotropin suppression, the degree of which was related to the extent of adluminal germ cell suppression. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY Sertoli cell TJs are vital components of the blood-testis barrier (BTB) that sequester developing adluminal meiotic germ cells and spermatids from the vascular compartment. Claudin-11 knockout mice are infertile; additionally claudin-11 is spatially disrupted in chronically gonadotropin-suppressed rats coincident with a loss of BTB function, and claudin-11 is disorganized in various human testicular disorders. These data support the Sertoli cell TJ as a potential site of hormonal contraceptive action. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION BTB proteins were assessed by immunohistochemistry (n = 16 samples) and mRNA (n = 18 samples) expression levels in available archived testis tissue from a previous study of 22 men who had undergone 8 weeks of gonadotropin suppression and for whom meiotic and post-meiotic germ cell numbers were available. The gonadotropin suppression regimens were (i) testosterone enanthate (TE) plus the GnRH antagonist, acyline (A); (ii) TE + the progestin, levonorgestrel, (LNG); (iii) TE + LNG + A or (iv) TE + LNG + the 5α-reductase inhibitor, dutasteride (D). A control group consisted of seven additional men, with three archived samples available for this study. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHODS Immunohistochemical localization of claudin-11 (TJ) and other junctional type markers [ZO-1 (cytoplasmic plaque), β-catenin (adherens junction), connexin-43 (gap junction), vinculin (ectoplasmic specialization) and β-actin (cytoskeleton)] and quantitative PCR was conducted using matched frozen testis tissue. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE Claudin-11 formed a continuous staining pattern at the BTB in control men. Regardless of gonadotropin suppression treatment, claudin-11 localization was markedly disrupted and was broadly associated with the extent of meiotic/post-meiotic germ cell suppression; claudin-11 staining was (i) punctate (i.e. 'spotty' appearance) at the basal aspect of tubules when the average numbers of adluminal germ cells were <15% of control, (ii) presented as short fragments with cytoplasmic extensions when numbers were 15-25% of control or (iii) remained continuous when numbers were >40% of control. Changes in localization of connexin-43 and vinculin were also observed (smaller effects than for claudin-11) but ZO-1, β-catenin and β-actin did not differ, compared with control. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION Claudin-11 was the only Sertoli cell TJ protein investigated, but it is considered to be the most pivotal of constituent proteins given its known implication in infertility and BTB function. We were limited to testis samples which had been gonadotropin-suppressed for 8 weeks, shorter than the 74-day spermatogenic wave, which may account for the heterogeneity in claudin-11 and germ cell response observed among the men. Longer suppression (12-24 weeks) is known to suppress germ cells further and claudin-11 disruption may be more uniform, although we could not access such samples. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS These findings are important for our understanding of the sites of action of male hormonal contraception, because they suggest that BTB function could be ablated following long-term hormone suppression treatment.
- Male hormonal contraception
- Sertoli cell tight junction