Though roles of β-catenin signaling during testis development have been well established, relatively little is known about its role in postnatal testicular physiology. Even less is known about its role in post-meiotic germ cell development and differentiation. Here, we report that β-catenin is highly expressed in post-meiotic germ cells and plays an important role during spermiogenesis in mice. Spermatid-specific deletion of β-catenin resulted in significantly reduced sperm count, increased germ cell apoptosis and impaired fertility. In addition, ultrastructural studies show that the loss of β-catenin in post-meiotic germ cells led to acrosomal defects, anomalous release of immature spermatids and disruption of adherens junctions between Sertoli cells and elongating spermatids (apical ectoplasmic specialization; ES). These defects are likely due to altered expression of several genes reportedly involved in Sertoli cell-germ cell adhesion and germ cell differentiation, as revealed by gene expression analysis. Taken together, our results suggest that β-catenin is an important molecular link that integrates Sertoli cell-germ cell adhesion with the signaling events essential for post-meiotic germ cell development and maturation. Since β-catenin is also highly expressed in the Sertoli cells, we propose that binding of germ cell β-catenin complex to β-catenin complex on Sertoli cell at the apical ES surface triggers a signaling cascade that regulates post-meiotic germ cell differentiation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)