At the end of spermatogenesis, elongated spermatids are released from supporting Sertoli cells via the process termed spermiation. Previous studies have shown that spermiation failure occurs after hormone suppression, in which spermatids are retained instead of releasing. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in spermiation and spermiation failure are largely unknown. The aims of the present study were, first, to characterize the ultrastructural events associated with normal spermiation and spermiation failure using light and electron microscopy and, second, to investigate the localization of cell adhesion-associated (β1-integrin and cadherins) and junction-associated molecules (integrin-associated kinase [ILK], β-catenin, and espin) during these processes. Four adult Sprague-Dawley rats received testosterone and estradiol implants and FSH antibody (2 mg kg−1 day−1) for 7 days to suppress testicular testosterone and FSH and to induce spermiation failure. Four rats treated with saline were used as controls. After testosterone and FSH suppression, spermiation at the ultrastructural level appeared to be normal until the final disengagement of the spermatids from Sertoli cells (stage VIII), at which stage a large number of retained spermatids were noted. Immunohistochemical localization of espin showed that during spermiation, removal of the ectoplasmic specialization (ES) occurred 30 h before spermatid disengagement, suggesting that non-ES junctions mediate the spermatid-Sertoli cell interaction before and during disengagement. β1-Integrin and β-catenin remained associated with spermatids after ES removal and until disengagement; however, ILK was removed along with the ES. Though detectable, N-cadherin was not associated with the spermatid-Sertoli cell junction. After testosterone and FSH suppression, β1-integrin, but not N-cadherin or β-catenin, remained associated with spermatids that failed to spermiate. In conclusion, hormone suppression-induced spermiation failure is caused by defects in the disengagement of spermatids from the Sertoli cell, and this process likely is mediated by β1-integrin in an ILK-independent mechanism.
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