Benzo(a)pyrene Is Mutagenic in Mouse Spermatogonial Stem Cells and Dividing Spermatogonia

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Although many environmental agents are established male germ cell mutagens, few are known to induce mutations in spermatogonial stem cells. Stem cell mutations are of great concern because they result in a permanent increase in the number of mutations carried in sperm. We investigated mutation induction during mouse spermatogenesis following exposure to benzo(a)pyrene (BaP). MutaMouse males were given 0, 12.5, 25, 50, or 100 mg/kg bw/day BaP for 28 days by oral gavage. Germ cells were collected from the cauda epididymis and seminiferous tubules 3 days after exposure and from cauda epididymis 42 and 70 days after exposure. This design enabled targeted investigation of effects on post-spermatogonia, dividing spermatogonia, and spermatogonial stem cells, respectively. BaP increased lacZ mutant frequency (MF) in cauda sperm after exposure of dividing spermatogonia (4.2-fold at highest dose, P < .01) and spermatogonial stem cells (2.1-fold at highest dose, P < .01). No significant increases in MF were detected in cauda sperm or seminiferous tubule cells collected 3 days post-exposure. Dose-response modelling suggested that the mutational response in male germ cells to BaP is sub-linear at low doses. Our results demonstrate that oral exposure to BaP causes spermatogonial stem cell mutations, that different phases of spermatogenesis exhibit varying sensitivities to BaP, with dividing spermatogonia representing a window of peak sensitivity, and that sampling spermatogenic cells from the seminiferous tubules at earlier time-points may underestimate germ cell mutagenicity. This information is critical to optimize the use of the international test guideline for transgenic rodent mutation assays for detecting germ cell mutagens.

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