Cyclic formation and decay of the blood-testis barrier in the mink (Mustela vison), a seasonal breeder



The correlations between the germ cell population and the blood-testis barrier were studied during puberty and throughout the reproductive cycle in a seasonal breeder, the mink. A classification of 12 stages, corresponding to the cellular associations appearing during the cycle of the seminiferous epithelium, was proposed and used to identify the stages of the cycle in pubertal mink. In adult mink, the reproductive cycle was divided into two spermatogenic phases–an active phase lasting 9 months, and an inactive phase lasting 3 months. The active spermatogenic phase was broken down into three distinct periods: the first spermatogenic wave, the peak of spermatogenic activity, and the last spermatogenic wave. Degenerating germ cells were found in comparable and relatively low proportions during puberty and during the first and last spermatogenic waves of the adult reproductive cycle. The permeability of the blood-testis barrier to intravascularly infused electron-opaque tracers (i.e., horseradish peroxidase and lanthanum) was tested at the time of the first spermatogenic wave at puberty and throughout the reproductive cycle of the adult. The relationship between epithelial permeability and germ cell populations prevailing during puberty and during the first and last spermatogenic waves of the adult active phase was the same. During puberty, the establishment of the blood-testis barrier did not coincide with the appearance of a particular step of meiosis but was correlated with the development of a tubular lumen. In adult mink, the barrier cyclically decayed during the last wave of the active spermatogenic phase and reformed during the first wave of the next active phase. The decay and the reformation of the barrier were not coincident with the appearance or disappearance of a particular generation of the germ cell population from the seminiferous epithelium but were correlated with cyclic cytological changes in Sertoli cells and the rhythmic development and occlusion of the lumen. During the peak months of the active spermatogenic phase, however, a blood-testis barrier secluded spermatogonia and young spermatocytes from older generations of germ cells. It is concluded that (1) during puberty and also during the first and last spermatogenic wave of the adult mink reproductive cycle, the development of germ cells is possible in the absence of a competent, impermeable blood-testis barrier, and (2) the transient presence of a permeable epithelial barrier does not initiate an autoimmune response of sufficient magnitude to cause destruction of the seminiferous epithelium.