Improvingin vitroSertoli cell/gonocyte co-culture model for assessing male reproductive toxicity: Lessons learned from comparisons of cytotoxicity versus genomic responses to phthalates

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Gonocytes exist in the neonatal testis and represent a transient population of male germ-line stem cells. It has been shown that stem cell self-renewal and progeny production is probably controlled by the neighboring differentiated cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) in vivo known as niches. Recently, we developed an in vitro three-dimensional (3D) Sertoli cell/gonocyte co-culture (SGC) model with ECM overlay, which creates an in vivo-like niche and supports germ-line stem cell functioning within a 3D environment. In this study, we applied morphological and cytotoxicity evaluations, as well as microarray-based gene expression to examine the effects of different phthalate esters (PE) on this model. Known in vivo male developmentally toxic PEs (DTPE) and developmentally non-toxic PEs (DNTPE) were evaluated. We observed that DTPE induced significantly greater dose-dependent morphological changes, a decrease in cell viability and an increase in cytotoxicity compared to those treated with DNTPE. Moreover, the gene expression was more greatly altered by DTPE than by DNTPE and non-supervised cluster analysis allowed the discrimination of DTPE from the DNTPE. Our systems-based GO-Quant analysis showed significant alterations in the gene pathways involved in cell cycle, phosphate transport and apoptosis regulation with DTPE but not with DNTPE treatment. Disruptions of steroidogenesis related-gene expression such as Star, Cyp19a1, Hsd17b8, and Nr4a3 were observed in the DTPE group, but not in the DNTPE group. In summary, our observation on cell viability, cytotoxicity, and microarray-based gene expression analysis induced by PEs demonstrate that our in vitro 3D-SGC system mimicked in vivo responses for PEs and suggests that the 3D-SGC system might be useful in identifying developmental reproductive toxicants.

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