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Keywords:

  • apoptosis;
  • spermatogenesis;
  • Sertoli cells;
  • cartilaginous fish

Abstract

This article is a cytological and molecular investigation on the occurrence of apoptosis during spermatogenesis in Torpedo, a cartilaginous fish characterised by a typical cystic testis. Using DNA fragmentation and Bak gene expression, it demonstrated that germ cells undergo apoptosis only at the stages of spermatocyte and spermatid, and degeneration also involves Sertoli but not Leydig cells. In immature cysts, this cellular process probably occurs when the ratio of germ cells to the only Sertoli cell (SC) forming the spermatoblast changes. Apoptosis also takes place in mature cysts after sperm release to eliminate most of the SCs. Few of them, however, become cytoplasts and probably continue secreting androgens so as to control the final events of spermatogenesis, i.e., passage of spermatozoa through the ductus deferentes. Finally, the present investigation demonstrated that, in Torpedo testis, Bak mRNA is expressed during spermatogenesis, thus suggesting that the mitochondrial pathway might be active. This observation in one of the oldest vertebrate classes indicates that, in all vertebrates, the apoptotic process during spermatogenesis is conserved, contributing to testicular homeostasis. Mol. Reprod. Dev. 64: 341–348, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.