Progression of the first meiotic division in male germ cells is regulated by a variety of factors, including androgens and possibly estrogens. When this regulation fails, meiosis is arrested and primary spermatocytes degenerate by apoptosis. Earlier studies showed that overexpression of rat androgen-binding protein (ABP) in the testis of transgenic mice results in a partial meiotic arrest and apoptosis of pachytene spermatocytes. In view of the recent localization of estrogen receptor β (ERβ) in primary spermatocytes and data suggesting the ability of ERβ to repress cellular proliferation, we tested the hypothesis that variations in the testicular steroid microenvironment caused by excess ABP produce changes in ERβ expression in this cellular type that could be associated to the meiotic arrest and, eventually, to the induction of germ cell apoptosis observed in the ABP transgenic mice. Increased levels of ERβ mRNA and protein were demonstrated in the testis of rat ABP transgenic mice compared with nontransgenic littermates by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) experiments, Northern blotting, and Western Blotting. The major differences were found when isolated germ cells of transgenic and nontransgenic littermates were analyzed by RT-PCR. In keeping with this finding, ERβ was strongly immunolabeled in pachytene spermatocytes of rat ABP transgenic mice and localized in tubular stages in which TUNEL labeling was maximal. Confocal microscopy analysis of a fluorescent TUNEL assay and ERβ immunohistochemistry revealed that degenerating pachytene spermatocytes overexpressed ERβ. The present results are consistent with the interpretation that ERβ is associated with the events that regulate negatively the progression of meiosis or that lead to spermatocyte apoptosis.
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