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An in vivo model was used to investigate the regulation of tight junction (TJ) dynamics in the testis when adult rats were treated with CdCl2. It was shown that the CdCl2-induced disruption of the blood-testis barrier (BTB) associated with a transient induction in testicular TGF-β2 and TGF-β3 (but not TGF-β1) and the phosphorylated p38 mitogen activated protein (MAP) kinase, concomitant with a loss of occludin and zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) from the BTB site in the seminiferous epithelium. These results suggest that BTB dynamics in vivo are regulated by TGF-β2/-β3 via the p38 MAP kinase pathway. Indeed, SB202190, a specific p38 MAP kinase inhibitor, blocked the CdCl2-induced occludin and ZO-1 loss from the BTB. This result clearly illustrates that CdCl2 mediates its BTB disruptive effects via the TGF-β3/p38 MAP kinase signaling pathway. Besides, this CdCl2-induced occludin and ZO-1 loss from the BTB also associated with a significant loss of the cadherin/catenin and the nectin/afadin protein complexes at the site of cell-cell actin-based adherens junctions (AJs). An induction of α2-macroglobulin (a non-specific protease inhibitor) was also observed during BTB damage and when the seminiferous epithelium was being depleted of germ cells. These data illustrate that a primary disruption of the BTB can lead to a secondary loss of cell adhesion function at the site of AJs, concomitant with an induction in protease inhibitor, which apparently is used to protect the epithelium from unwanted proteolysis. α2-Macroglobulin was also shown to associate physically with TGF-β3, afadin and nectin 3, but not occludin, E-cadherin or N-cadherin, indicating its possible role in junction restructuring in vivo. Additionally, the use of SB202190 to block the TGF-β3/p-38 MAP kinase pathway also prevented the CdCl2-induced loss of cadherin/catenin and nectin/afadin protein complexes from the AJ sites, yet it had no apparent effect on α2-macroglobulin. These results demonstrate for the first time that the TGF-β3/p38 MAP kinase signaling pathway is being used to regulate both TJ and AJ dynamics in the testis, mediated by the effects of TGF-β3 on TJ- and AJ-integral membrane proteins and adaptors, but not protease inhibitors.

  • Accepted September 22, 2003.
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