Galectin-1, a highly conserved β-galactoside-binding protein, induces apoptosis of activated T cells and suppresses the development of autoimmunity and chronic inflammation. To gain insight regarding the potential role of galectin-1 as a novel mechanism of immune privilege, we investigated expression and ultrastructural localization of galectin-1 in rat testis. Galectin-1 expression was assessed by Western blot analysis and immunocytochemical localization in testes obtained from rats aged from 9 to 60 days. Expression of this carbohydrate-binding protein was developmentally regulated, and its immunolabeling exhibited a stage-specific pattern throughout the spermatogenic process. Immunogold staining using the anti-galectin-1 antibody revealed the typical Sertoli cell profile in the seminiferous epithelium, mainly at stages X–II. During spermiation (stages VI–VIII), a strong labeling was observed at the luminal pole of seminiferous epithelium, localized on apical stalks of Sertoli cells, on heads of mature spermatids, and on bodies of residual cytoplasm. Moreover, spermatozoa released into the lumen showed a strong immunostaining. Following spermiation (stage VIII), galectin-1 expression was restored at the basal portion of Sertoli cells and progressively spread out through the whole cells as differentiation of germinal cells proceeded. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed distribution of galectin-1 in nuclei and cytoplasmic projections of Sertoli cells and on heads and tails of late spermatids and residual bodies. Surface localization of galectin-1 was evidenced in spermatozoa from caput epididymis. Thus, the regulated expression of galectin-1 during the spermatogenic cycle suggests a novel role for this immunosuppressive lectin in reproductive biology.
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