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Keywords:

  • androgen binding protein (ABP);
  • germ cell;
  • inhibin;
  • pre-pubertal rat;
  • radiation;
  • Sertoli cell;
  • testin;
  • testis

While germ cell regulation of Sertoli cells has been extensively explored in adult rats in vivo, in contrast, very little is known about germ cell influence on Sertoli cell function at the time when spermatogenesis begins and develops. In the present study various Sertoli cell parameters (number, testicular androgen binding protein (ABP) and testin, serum inhibin-B and, indirectly, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)) were investigated after the exposure of 19-day-old rats to a low dose of 3 Grays of γ-rays. Differentiated spermatogonia were the primary testicular targets of the γ-rays, which resulted in progressive maturation depletion, sequentially and reversibly affecting all germ cell classes. Testicular weight declined to a nadir when pachytene spermatocytes and spermatids were depleted from the seminiferous epithelium and complete or near complete recovery of spermatogenesis and testicular weight was observed at the end of the experiment. Blood levels of FSH and ABP were normal during the first 11 days after irradiation, when spermatogonia and early spermatocytes were depleted. While the number of Sertoli cells was not significantly affected by the irradiation, from days 11–66 after γ-irradiation, ABP production declined and FSH levels increased when pachytene spermatocytes and spermatids were depleted and the recovery of these parameters was only observed when spermatogenesis was fully restored. Comparison of the pattern of change in serum levels of inhibin-B and testicular levels of testin and of germ cell numbers strongly suggest a relationship between the disappearance of spermatocytes and spermatids from the seminiferous epithelium and the decrease in levels of inhibin-B and increase in levels of testin from 7 to 36 days post-irradiation. Levels of testin and inhibin-B were restored before spermatogenesis had totally returned to normal. In conclusion, this in vivo study shows that pre-pubertal Sertoli cell function is under the complex control of various germ cell classes. This control presents clear differences when compared with that previously observed in adult animals and depends on the Sertoli cell parameter of interest, as well as on the germ cell type.