• gonad;
  • development;
  • Leydig;
  • Sertoli;
  • germinal;
  • differentiation;
  • proliferation;
  • secretion;
  • connexin43;
  • fetal testis


Multiple connexins have been identified in testicular cells. Several lines of evidences indicate that, among them, connexin 43 (Cx43) may be unique for control of gonad development and spermatogenesis. To date, however, it is not known whether Cx43 is expressed in the fetal testis and what possible types of cellular interactions mediated by this connexin are critical to male fertility. In the present work, expression of Cx43 was investigated at various developmental ages in cryosections from mouse testis by using specific antibodies against Cx43. In serial or double-labeled sections, Cx43 localization was compared with immunocytochemical distribution of steroidogenic enzyme, 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD), Mullerian inhibitory hormone (MIH), and germinal nuclear cell antigen (GCNA1), which are specific markers, respectively, of interstitial Leydig, Sertoli, and germinal cells. Sections were analyzed by fluorescence microcopy. We found that Cx43 immunofluorescence (IF) was uniformly distributed in the undifferentiated gonad at 11.5 days post coitus (dpc) and in cells of the mesonephric tubules. In the undifferentiated gonad, Cx43 was localized between primordial germ cells and somatic cells. At 12.5 dpc, when the gonad has undergone sexual differentiation, in the interstitium Cx43 was localized in Leydig cells and in the seminiferous cord it was localized between adjacent Sertoli cells. In Leydig and Sertoli cells, Cx43 labeling increased at 14.5, 16.5, and 18.5 dpc. From day 12.5 up to 18.5 dpc, Cx43 was also localized in cell borders between germinal and Sertoli cells. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that from the earliest stages of gonadal development, Cx43 is expressed in the principal cell types that participate in the control of male fertility. It also shows that Cx43 expression in Leydig and Sertoli cells increase during fetal life. Finally, it provides evidence that, throughout embryonic life, Cx43 forms gap junctions between Sertoli and germinal cells. Anat Rec 264:237–246, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.