Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) plays important roles during testicular development and in the maintenance of spermatogenesis in the adult. However, the cellular events or pathways that FSH regulates to achieve these effects in Sertoli cells, where the FSH receptors (FSH-R) are located, is still not fully elucidated. The development of FSH-R knockout (FORKO) mice provides a model to examine alterations in testicular structure and function in its absence. To this end, light (LM) and electron microscopic (EM) analyses of perfusion-fixed testes of wild-type and FORKO mice of different ages were performed. Under the LM, a significant reduction was noted in the profile area of seminiferous tubules of FORKO mice compared with their wild-type counterparts at different ages. In addition, FORKO testes revealed large irregularly shaped spaces within the seminiferous epithelium, extending from the base to the lumen. Such spaces were often separated by anastomotic cords of spherical germ cells or completely surrounded elongating spermatids. This phenotype was restricted to half or less of the circumference of only some tubules, but was seen at all stages. EM analyses revealed that the spaces corresponded to an apparent accumulation of fluid in the Sertoli cell cytoplasm, coincident with an absence of the fine flocculent ground substance seen in wild-type mice. However, the Sertoli organelles, while less prominent, appeared intact and to be floating in the enlarged fluid-filled cytoplasm. Functionally, androgen-binding protein (ABP), a major secretory protein of Sertoli cells, was dramatically reduced in FORKO mice. These results suggest that FSH-R signaling normally maintains water balance in Sertoli cells in addition to regulating ABP production.
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