To determine the extent to which testicular regression involves apoptotic cell death, photosensitive adult starlings were photostimulated for up to 9 wk by exposure to long-day (18 h of light) photoperiods. Apoptotic activity in recrudescing and regressing testes was assessed by in situ TUNEL labeling. Absolute testis mass in male starlings increased after 2 wk of photostimulation and subsequently decreased with continued long-day exposure. Seminiferous tubule diameter also increased after 1–3 wk of photostimulation, then decreased as photorefractoriness developed. Testosterone concentrations increased significantly by Week 2 of photostimulation and declined with further light exposure. TUNEL labeling was significantly elevated in germ cells with 4 wk of photostimulation. An approximate 7-fold increase in the degree of apoptotic cell death was observed over the course of gonadal regression. Incidences of TUNEL labeling in somatic Sertoli cells also increased. Light and electron microscopy examination confirmed that these somatic cells displayed morphological characteristics of apoptotic death. In rodents, Sertoli cells have not been previously reported to die during gonadal regression. These results suggest that seasonal testicular regression in European starlings is mediated by apoptosis.
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