Spermatogenesis is a temperature-dependent process, and increases in scrotal temperature can disrupt its progression. We previously showed that heat stress causes DNA damage in germ cells, an increase in germ cell death (as seen on TUNEL staining), and subfertility. The present study evaluated the stress response in mouse testes following a single mild transient scrotal heat exposure (40°C or 42°C for 30 min). We investigated markers of three types of stress response, namely, hypoxia, oxidative stress, and apoptosis. Heat stress caused an increase in expression of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (Hif1a) mRNA expression and translocation of HIF1A protein to the germ cell nucleus, consistent with hypoxic stress. Increased expression of heme oxygenase 1 (Hmox1) and the antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase 1 (GPX1) and glutathione S-transferase alpha (GSTA) was consistent with a robust oxidative stress response. Germ cell death was associated with an increase in expression of the effector caspase cleaved caspase 3 and a decrease in expression of the protein inhibitor of caspase-activated DNase (ICAD). Reduced expression of ICAD contributes to increased activity of caspase-activated DNase and is consistent with the increased rates of DNA fragmentation that have been detected previously using TUNEL staining. These studies confirmed that transient mild testicular hyperthermia results in temperature-dependent germ cell death and demonstrated that elevated temperature results in a complex stress response, including induction of genes associated with oxidative stress and hypoxia.
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Vol. 80 • No. 5