The process of spermatogenesis requires a delicate balance of proapoptotic and antiapoptotic signaling to maintain optimal sperm output. A major transcription factor known to regulate numerous apoptosis-related genes is NF-κB. Here we show that mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP, 1 g/kg) induces translocation of NF-κB subunits (p65, p50, and c-Rel) to germ cell nuclei in young rats (Postnatal Day 28) as early as 1 h after exposure. Immunohistochemistry of rat testes exposed to MEHP showed increased p50 and c-Rel presence in spermatocytes and spermatogonia. In addition, there was increased p65 nuclear positivity in Sertoli cells and germ cells after MEHP, while Rel-B localization was unchanged. These alterations correlated with increased nuclear NF-κB-binding activity after MEHP exposure, as shown by electrophoretic mobility shift assays of whole-testis nuclear protein extracts. The increased activity of this transcription factor was associated with a transient protection of the seminiferous epithelium manifested as a decreased number of germ cell apoptotic nuclei measured by TUNEL assay 6 h after MEHP exposure. These results suggest that NF-κB is involved in the testicular response to MEHP-induced injury.
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