The terms blood-testis barrier (BTB) or blood-epididymis barrier (BEB), are often described as Sertoli cell-Sertoli cell tight junctions (TJs) or TJs between the epithelial cells in the epididymis, respectively. However, in reality, the BTB and BEB are much more complex than just the TJ. The focus of this minireview is to remind readers that the complete BTB and BEB are comprised of three components: anatomical, physiological, and immunological. The TJs form the anatomical (physical) barrier that restricts passage of molecules and cells from entering or exiting the lumen. The physiological barrier is comprised of transporters that regulate movement of substances in or out of the lumen, thus creating a microenvironment, which is critical for the proper development and maturation of germ cells. The immunological barrier limits access by the immune system and sequesters the majority of the autoantigenic germ cells. Combined with the overall immune-privilege of the testis, this suppresses detrimental immune responses against the autoantigenic germ cells. These three components on their own do not create a complete functional barrier; instead, it is the interaction between all three components that create a barrier of maximal competence.
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Vol. 84 • No. 5