Early in postnatal life the first phase of spermatogenesis is accompanied by an initial wave of germ cell apoptosis. This wave of germ cell death is thought to reflect an adjustment of germ cell numbers that can be adequately maintained by Sertoli cells. Caspase 2 is an initiator caspase whose activation has been found to stimulate apoptosis through the mitochondria. The present study investigates if germ cell apoptosis during the first phase of spermatogenesis involves activation of caspase 2. Germ cell apoptosis was found to peak at Postnatal Days (pnds) 15 and 16 in male C57BL/6 mice. Western blot analysis revealed that caspase 2 also increased in the testes at pnd 16. Immunolocalization of total caspase 2 showed staining of germ cells in the periphery of the seminiferous tubules as well as germ cells more centrally located in an area where apoptotic germ cells were observed. Cytoplasmic as well as nuclear staining was observed. Western blot analysis of cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins from pnd 16 testis revealed pro-caspase 2 in both fractions. Further Western blot analysis for caspase 2 detected an increase in the activation of caspase 2 at pnd 16 in proteins isolated from the cytoplasm but not from the nucleus. Proteins isolated from mitochondria from pnd 16 testes revealed an increase in pro-caspase 2 as well as activated caspase 2 corresponding with an increase in cytochrome c in cytoplasmic fractions. Injection of the caspase 2-specific inhibitor z-VDVAD-fmk directly into the testis significantly reduced the observed germ cell apoptosis at pnds 15 and 16. These results suggest that caspase 2 is present in germ cells in the murine testis in early postnatal life and increases in expression in correspondence to the initial wave of germ cell apoptosis. Caspase 2 also localizes to mitochondria, where it is correlated with a release of cytochrome c and germ cell apoptosis. Blockade of caspase 2 activation reduced the number of apoptotic germ cells in the initial wave of germ cell apoptosis, indicating that caspase 2 plays an important role upstream of the mitochondria in germ cell apoptosis during the first phase of spermatogenesis.
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