Nitric Oxide and Cyclic Nucleotides: Their Roles in Junction Dynamics and Spermatogenesis
Nikki P.Y. Lee and C. Yan Cheng
Spermatogenesis is a highly complicated process in which functional spermatozoa (haploid, 1n) are generated from primitive mitotic spermatogonia (diploid, 2n). This process involves the differentiation and transformation of several types of germ cells as spermatocytes and spermatids undergo meiosis and differentiation. Due to its sophistication and complexity, testis possesses intrinsic mechanisms to modulate and regulate different stages of germ cell development under the intimate and indirect cooperation with Sertoli and Leydig cells, respectively. Furthermore, developing germ cells must translocate from the basal to the apical (adluminal) compartment of the seminiferous epithelium. Thus, extensive junction restructuring must occur to assist germ cell movement. Within the seminiferous tubules, three principal types of junctions are found namely anchoring junctions, tight junctions, and gap junctions. Other less studied junctions are desmosome-like junctions and hemidesmosome junctions. With these varieties of junction types, testes are using different regulators to monitor junction turnover. Among the uncountable junction modulators, nitric oxide (NO) is a prominent candidate due to its versatility and extensive downstream network. NO is synthesized by nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Three traditional NOS, specified as endothelial NOS (eNOS), inducible NOS (iNOS), and neuronal NOS (nNOS), and one testis-specific nNOS (TnNOS) are found in the testis. For these, eNOS and iNOS were recently shown to have putative junction regulation properties. More important, these two NOSs likely rely on the downstream soluble guanylyl cyclase/cGMP/protein kinase G signaling pathway to regulate the structural components at the tight junctions and adherens junctions in the testes. Apart from the involvement in junction regulation, NOS/NO also participates in controlling the levels of cytokines and hormones in the testes. On the other hand, NO is playing a unique role in modulating germ cell viability and development, and indirectly acting on some aspects of male infertility and testicular pathological conditions. Thus, NOS/NO bears an irreplaceable role in maintaining the homeostasis of the microenvironment in the seminiferous epithelium via its different downstream signaling pathways.