Altered spermatogenesis of death ligand gene deficient mice and the influence of phthalates in germ cell apoptosis and enhanced testicular cancer progression
Testicular germ cell apoptosis is a process that begins in early development and continues in the adult testis. It is important during spermatogenesis for maintaining homeostasis of different types of germ cells. The number of sperm produced depends on the supportive capacity of surrounding Sertoli cells, which provide nutrition and an adaptive environment for growth and development of the germ cells. There are two major pathways that regulate germ cell apoptosis: extrinsic and intrinsic. We hypothesize that Sertoli cells use the extrinsic pathway to eliminate germ cells when exposed to phthalates, a common Sertoli cell toxicant. Death ligands, which are involved in the extrinsic pathway, were used in this research to test this hypothesis. Here, we demonstrate that: 1) the loss of FasL and TRAIL protein expression results in decreased production of mature spermatids in the adult testis, likely as a result of alterations in germ cell homeostatsis during the first wave of spermatogenesis. 2) The high baseline incidence of germ cell apoptosis in peripubertal FasL-/- and TRAIL-/- mice is correlated with increases in levels of TRAIL and FasL, respectively. 3) The decline in germ cell apoptosis observed after MEHP treatment in FasL-/- mice closely corresponds to the occurrence of increased levels of c-FLIP. 4) A more predominant role of FasL occurs in controlling the proper number of germ cells during the first wave of spermatogenesis in peri-pubertal mice. TRAIL is more critical for maintaining long-term homeostasis of the germ cell population in adult testis as well as in the reproductive function. 5) Several possible genes are involved in the altered spermatogenesis and development in the testis of gene-deficient mice. 6) Findings described in Chapter 6 indicate cellular mechanisms triggered by MEHP exposure that act to enhance tumor progression/metastasis in testicular embryonal carcinoma cells (NT2/D1). Taken together, these novel findings provide important mechanistic insights into the functional roles of FasL in the testis at distinct developmental periods and further indicate that FasL itself is required for the regulation of c-FLIP levels in the testis. Additionally, exposure to environmental toxicants, such as the phthalates, can enhance testicular cancer metastasis and invasion.