Impaired expression and distribution of adherens and gap junction proteins in the seminiferous tubules of rats undergoing autoimmune orchitis

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Experimental autoimmune orchitis (EAO) is characterized by an interstitial lymphomononuclear cell infiltration and a severe lesion of seminiferous tubules (ST) with germ cells that undergo apoptosis and sloughing. The aim of this study was to analyse the expression and localization of adherens junction (AJ) proteins: N-cadherin, α-, β- and p120 catenins and gap junction protein, connexin 43 (Cx43), to explore some aspects of germ-cell sloughing during the development of orchitis. EAO was induced in Sprague–Dawley adult rats by active immunization with testicular homogenate and adjuvants. Control rats (C) were injected with saline solution and adjuvants. Concomitant with early signs of germ-cell sloughing, we observed by immunofluorescence and Western blot, a delocalization and a significant increase in N-cadherin and α-catenin expression in the ST of EAO compared with C rats. In spite of this increased AJ protein expression, a severe germ-cell sloughing occurred. This is probably due to the impairment of the AJ complex function, as shown by the loss of N-cadherin/β-catenin colocalization (confocal microscopy) and increased pY654 β-catenin expression, suggesting lower affinity of these two proteins and increased pERK1/2 expression in the testis of EAO rats. The significant decrease in Cx43 expression detected in EAO rats suggests a gap junction function impairment also contributing to germ-cell sloughing.

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