Chapter

Molecular Mechanisms in Spermatogenesis

Volume 636 of the series Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology pp 186-211

The Sertoli Cell Cytoskeleton

  • A. Wayne VoglAffiliated withDepartment of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Division of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Life Sciences Centre, The University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Kuljeet S. VaidAffiliated withDepartment of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Division of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Life Sciences Centre, The University of British Columbia
  • , Julian A. GuttmanAffiliated withMichael Smith Laboratories, The University of British Columbia

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Abstract

The cytoskeleton of terminally differentiated mammalian Sertoli cells is one of the most elaborate of those that have been described for cells in tissues. Actin filaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules have distinct patterns of distribution that change during the cyclic process of spermatogenesis. Each of the three major cytoskeletal elements is either concentrated at or related in part to intercellular junctions. Actin filaments are concentrated in unique structures termed ectoplasmic specializations that function in intercellular adhesion, and at tubulobulbar complexes that are thought to be involved with junction internalization during sperm release and movement of spermatocytes through basal junctions between neighboring Sertoi cells. Intermediate filaments occur in a perinuclear network which has peripheral extensions to desmosome-like junctions with adjacent cells and to small hemidesmosome-like attachments to the basal lamina. Unlike in most other epithelia where the intermediate filaments are of the keratin type, intermediate filaments in mature Sertoli cells are of the vimentin type. The function of intermediate filaments in Sertoli cells in not entirely clear; however, the pattern of filament distribution and the limited experimental data available are consistent with a role in maintaining tissue integrity when the epithelium is mechanically stressed. Microtubules are abundant in Sertoli cells and are predominantly oriented parallel to the long axis of the cell. Microtubules are involved with maintaining the columnar shape of Sertoli cells, with transporting and positioning organelles in the cytoplasm, and with secreting seminiferous tubule fluid. In addition, microtubule-based transport machinery is coupled to intercellular junctions to translocate and position adjacent spermatids in the epithelium. Although the cytoskeleton of Sertoli cells has structural and functional properties common to cells generally, there are a number of properties that are unique and that appear related to processes fundamental to spermatogenesis and to interfacing somatic cells both with similar neighboring somatic cells and with differentiating cells of the germ cell line.