Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are exogenous compounds that mimic or inhibit the action of estrogens or other hormones. Nonylphenol, an environmental contaminant distributed along the St. Lawrence River, has been reported to act as a weak estrogen. Previous studies from our laboratory have shown that rats that were fed fish taken from nonylphenol contaminated sites have altered spermatogenesis and decreased sperm count. The mechanism responsible for this effect is unknown. Gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) in the testis is critical for coordinating spermatogenesis. The objectives of the study were to determine the effects of nonylphenol on GJIC and connexin 43 (Cx43) in a murine Sertoli cell line, TM4. Cells were exposed for 24 h to different concentrations (1 to 50 μM) of either nonylphenol or 17β-estradiol. GJIC was determined using a microinjection approach in which Lucifer yellow was injected directly into a single cell, and GJIC was assessed 3 min postinjection. Nonylphenol exposure decreased GJIC between adjacent cells by almost 80% relative to controls. A significant concentration-dependent reduction in GJIC was observed at nonylphenol concentrations between 1 and 50 μM. Cx43 immunofluorescent staining was reduced at both 10 and 50 μM doses of nonylphenol. Cx43 phosphorylation, as determined by Western blot analysis, was reduced at both 10 and 50 μM concentrations, which may explain, at least in part, the inhibition of GJIC. In contrast, no effect on GJIC or Cx43 protein was observed in cells exposed to 17β-estradiol at these concentrations. Cx43 has been reported to be phosphorylated via the p38-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. P38-MAPK activity was assessed in both control and nonylphenol-exposed cells. A dose-dependent decrease in p38-MAPK activity was observed in nonylphenol-exposed Sertoli cells. Protein kinase C activity was also measured and was not influenced by nonylphenol. These results suggest that nonylphenol inhibits GJIC between Sertoli cells and that this is modulated via nonestrogenic pathways.
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