Extracellular Matrix and Its Role in Spermatogenesis
Michelle K.Y. Siu and C. Yan Cheng
In adult mammalian testes, such as rats, Sertoli and germ cells at different stages of their development in the seminiferous epithelium are in close contact with the basement membrane, a modified form of extracellular matrix (ECM). In essence, Sertoli and germ cells in particular spermatogonia are “resting” on the basement membrane at different stages of the seminiferous epithelial cycle, relying on its structural and hormonal supports. Thus, it is not entirely unexpected that ECM plays a significant role in regulating spermatogenesis, particularly spermatogonia and Sertoli cells, and the blood-testis barrier (BTB) constituted by Sertoli cells since these cells are in physical contact with the basement membrane. Additionally, the basement membrane is also in close contact with the underlying collagen network and the myoid cell layers, which together with the lymphatic network, constitute the tunica propria. The seminiferous epithelium and the tunica propria, in turn, constitute the seminiferous tubule, which is the functional unit that produces spermatozoa via its interaction with Leydig cells in the interstitium. In short, the basement membrane and the underlying collagen network that create the acellular zone of the tunica propria may even facilitate cross-talk between the seminiferous epithelium, the myoid cells and cells in the interstitium. Recent studies in the field have illustrated the crucial role of ECM in supporting Sertoli and germ cell function in the seminiferous epithelium, including the BTB dynamics. In this chapter, we summarize some of the latest findings in the field regarding the functional role of ECM in spermatogenesis using the adult rat testis as a model. We also highlight specific areas of research that deserve attention for investigators in the field.