Apoptosis plays an important role in controlling germ cell numbers and restricting abnormal cell proliferation during spermatogenesis. The tumor suppressor protein, p53, is highly expressed in the testis, and is known to be involved in apoptosis, which suggests that it is one of the major causes of germ cell loss in the testis. Mice that are c-kit/SCF mutant (Sl/Sld) and cryptorchid show similar testicular phenotypes; they carry undifferentiated spermatogonia and Sertoli cells in their seminiferous tubules. To investigate the role of p53-dependent apoptosis in infertile testes, we transplanted p53-deficient spermatogonia that were labeled with enhanced green fluorescence protein into cryptorchid and Sl/Sld testes. In cryptorchid testes, transplanted p53-deficient spermatogonia differentiated into spermatocytes, but not into haploid spermatids. In contrast, no differentiated germ cells were observed in Sl/Sld mutant testes. These results indicate that the mechanism of germ cell loss in the c-kit/SCF mutant is not dependent on p53, whereas the apoptotic mechanism in the cryptorchid testis is quite different (i.e., although the early stage of differentiation of spermatogonia and the meiotic prophase is dependent on p53-mediated apoptosis, the later stage of spermatids is not).
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