TAR DNA binding protein of 43 kD (TDP-43) is an evolutionarily conserved, ubiquitously expressed transcription factor and RNA-binding protein with major human health relevance. TDP-43 is present in Sertoli and germ cells of the testis and is aberrantly expressed in the sperm of infertile men. Sertoli cells play a key role in spermatogenesis by offering physical and nutritional support to male germ cells. The current study investigated the requirement of TDP-43 in Sertoli cells. Conditional knockout (cKO) of TDP-43 in mouse Sertoli cells caused failure of spermatogenesis and male subfertility. The cKO mice showed decreased testis weight, and low sperm count. Testis showed loss of germ cell layers, presence of vacuoles, and sloughing of round spermatids, suggesting loss of contact with Sertoli cells. Using a biotin tracer, we found that the blood-testis barrier (BTB) was disrupted as early as postnatal day 24 and worsened in adult cKO mice. We noted aberrant expression of the junction proteins connexin-43 (gap junction) and N-cadherin (ectoplasmic specialization). Oil Red O staining showed a decrease in lipid droplets (phagocytic function) in tubule cross-sections, Sertoli cells cytoplasm, and in the lumen of seminiferous tubules of cKO mice. Finally, qRT-PCR showed upregulation of genes involved in the formation and/or maintenance of Sertoli cell junctions as well as in the phagocytic pathway. Sertoli cells require TDP-43 for germ cell attachment, formation and maintenance of BTB, and phagocytic function, thus indicating an essential role for TDP-43 in the maintenance of spermatogenesis.
Sertoli cells require the DNA/RNA binding protein TDP-43 to support spermatogenesis. In the absence of TDP-43, Sertoli cells failed to maintain germ cell attachment and the blood-testis barrier was compromised.