Dye coupling experiments were performed to determine whether the gap junctions connecting Sertoli cells with other Sertoli cells and different germ cell stages in rats showed functional variations. Chop loading of adult rat seminiferous tubules was conducted using fluorescent dextran controls and a variety of low-molecular-weight tracers (lucifer yellow, biotin-X-cadaverine, biotin cadaverine, and neurobiotin) to evaluate dye coupling in situ, and scrape loading was used to study dye coupling in Sertoli-germ cell cocultures established using prepuberal rats. Sertoli-Sertoli coupling is relatively short range and nonselective in situ, whereas coupling between Sertoli cells and chains of spermatogonia is strongly selective for the positively charged biotin tracers relative to negatively charged lucifer yellow. Coupling between Sertoli cells and spermatogonia was also asymmetric; lucifer yellow in germ cells never diffused into Sertoli cells, and biotinylated tracers only weakly diffused from spermatogonia to Sertoli cells. Asymmetric coupling would facilitate the concentration in germ cells of molecules diffusing through junctions from Sertoli cells. Dye coupling between Sertoli cells and adluminal germ cells was too weak to detect by fluorescence microscopy, suggesting that the junctional communication between these cells may be functionally different from that between Sertoli and basal germ cells. The results show that there are multiple routes of gap junction communication in rat seminiferous tubules that differ in permeability properties and show alternative gating states. Functional diversity of gap junctions may permit regulated communication among the many interacting Sertoli cells and germ cell stages in the seminiferous epithelium.
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