• mono-n-butyl phthalate;
  • mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate;
  • Sertoli cell;
  • tight junction;
  • biomarker of effect


Phthalates are suspect environmental endocrine disruptors that may affect male reproduction and development by disturbing androgen synthesis and cell–cell interactions in the seminiferous epithelium. The in vivo metabolites, monophthalates, are thought to be the active agents, and toxicant effects including testicular damage and decreased sperm motility have been described previously. In this study, the aim was to investigate the effect of monophthalates on Sertoli cells using a two-compartment cell culture model, asking whether tight junction protein structures are affected, compromising the blood-testis barrier and contributing to male-mediated toxicity. Sertoli cells were isolated from Sprague Dawley rat testes and seeded onto the filters of two-compartment wells. A Sertoli cell monolayer was allowed to form, whereupon the cultures were treated with 0, 10, 30, 150, and 600 μmol/L monobutyl phthalate (MBP) or mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP) for 24 h. Effects on the tight junctions between adjacent Sertoli cells were studied by light and transmission electron microscopy, the transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) assay, and immunofluorescence localization. Results showed that exposures to monophthalates destroyed tight junctional structure in Sertoli cell monolayers in a dose-depended manner, as evidenced by a loss of single-cell layer organization in the cultures, decline of TEER value, and decreased expression of proteins associated with tight junctions such as zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1), F-actin, and Occludin. The changes were observed at doses of 150 and 600 μmol/L, which is 10–100 times higher relative to estimated human exposures from the environment. These results are consistent with monophthalate-induced damage to tight junctions between adjacent Sertoli cells, suggesting that damage to Sertoli cell tight junctions induced by monophthalates may be an underlying mechanism of their male-mediated reproductive toxicity. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol, 2008.