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The process of seminiferous cord formation is the first morphological event that differentiates a testis from an ovary and indicates male sex determination. Cord formation occurs by embryonic Day 14 (Day 0 5 plug date; E14) in the rat. A series of experiments were conducted to determine if neurotropins and their receptors are important for the process of rat embryonic cord formation. The expression of low affinity neurotropin receptor (p75/LNGFR) was determined by immunohistochemistry on sections of both testis and ovary from E13 through birth (Day 0, P0) with an antibody to p75/LNGFR. The staining for p75/ LNGFR was present in the mesonephros of E13 gonads and in a sex-specific manner appeared around developing cords at E14 in the embryonic testis. At birth, staining for p75/LNGFR was localized to a single layer of cells (i.e., peritubular cells) that surrounded the seminiferous cords. The genes for both neurotropin 3 (NT3) and for corresponding high affinity neurotropin trkC receptor were found to be expressed in the E14 rat testis, as well as other neurotropins and receptors. Immunocytochemical analysis of E14 rat testis demonstrated that NT3 was localized to the Sertoli cells and trkC was present in individual cells of the interstitium at E16 and in selected preperitubular cells at E18. Previously, the peritubular cells adjacent to the cords were demonstrated to be derived from migrating mesonephros cells around the time of cord formation. To determine if neurotropins were involved in cord formation, the actions of neurotropins were inhibited. A high affinity neurotropin receptor (trk)-specific kinase inhibitor, K252a, was used to treat organ cultures of testes from E13 rats prior to cord formation. Treatment of E13 testis organ cultures with K252a completely inhibited cord formation. K252a-treated organ cultures of E14 testis that contained cords did not alter cord morphology. A second experiment to inhibit neurotropin actions utilized a specific antagonist trk-IgG chimeric fusion protein and E13 testis organ cultures. The trk-IgG molecules dimerize with endogenous trk receptors and inhibit receptor signaling and activation of ligand function. Forty percent of E13 testis organ cultures treated with trkC-IgG had significantly reduced cord formation. TrkA-IgG had no effect on initiation of cords; however, in fifty percent of the treated organs, a ‘‘swollen’’ appearance of the cord structures was observed. Experiments using trkB-IgG chimeric protein on E13 organ cultures had no effect on cord formation or cord morphology. The testes from trkC and NT3 knockout mice were examined to determine if there were any morphological differences in the testis. NT3 knockouts appeared to have normal cord morphology in E15 and E17 testis. TrkC knockout mice also had normal cord morphology in E14 and P0 testis. Both NT3 and trkC knockout-mice testis had less interstitial area than wild-type controls. In addition, the trkC knockout mice have an increased number of cells expressing p75LNGFR within the cords when compared to controls or NT3 knockout mice. Combined observations suggest compensation between the different neurotropin ligands, receptors, and/or possibly different growth factors for this critical biological process. In summary, results suggest a novel nonneuronal role for neurotropins in the process of cord formation during embryonic rat testis development. The hypothesis developed is that neurotropins are involved in the progression of male sex differentiation and are critical for the induction of embryonic testis cord formation.