What is the Blood-Testis Barrier?
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The blood–testis barrier is a physical barrier between the blood vessels and the seminiferous tubules of the testes. The term is a bit misleading as it is not a blood-organ barrier, but rather one that is formed by the tight junctions between Sertoli cells of the seminiferous tubules. For this reason, this barrier is also referred to as the “Sertoli cell barrier”. The barrier isolates further developed germ cells from the blood.
The presence of the blood-testis barrier allows Sertoli cells to control the environment in which germ cells (i.e., spermatocytes, spermatids, and sperm) develop. It also prevents toxins from entering the seminiferous tubules, protecting the germ cells as they develop. The fluid in the open space of the seminiferous tubules (called the lumen) is different from the plasma in blood. It contains very little protein and glucose, and is rather composed of androgens, estrogens, and other substances. The blood-testis barrier helps maintain this unique chemical composition.
The blood-testis barrier can be found in all animals. In humans, it is absent until around the the age of 8, and begins to really assemble during the early stages of puberty (around the age of 11 or 12). This protective barrier is necessary for the creation of sperm (i.e., spermatogenesis), and any sort of disruption to it could lead to infertility in males.
Nuts & Bolts: Blood-Testis Barrier
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Androgen - a male sex hormone, such as testosterone.
Estrogen - any of a group of steroid hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body. Such hormones are also produced artificially for use in oral contraceptives or to treat menopausal and menstrual disorders.
Germ - a portion of an organism capable of developing into a new one or part of one.
Glucose - a simple sugar which is an important energy source in living organisms and is a component of many carbohydrates.
Plasma - the colorless fluid part of blood.
Protein - essential nutrients for the human body that are one of the building blocks of body tissue and can also serve as a fuel source.
Toxin - a harmful substance produced within living cells or organisms.
For additional terminology related to male contraception and the male reproductive system, please visit our glossary:
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Cheng CY, Mruk DD. The blood-testis barrier and its implications for male contraception. Pharmacol Rev. 2012 Jan;64(1):16-64. doi: 10.1124/pr.110.002790. Epub 2011 Oct 28. PMID: 22039149; PMCID: PMC3250082.
Wen Q, Tang EI, Li N, Mruk DD, Lee WM, Silvestrini B, Cheng CY. Regulation of Blood-Testis Barrier (BTB) Dynamics, Role of Actin-, and Microtubule-Based Cytoskeletons. Methods Mol Biol. 2018;1748:229-243. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-7698-0_16. PMID: 29453575; PMCID: PMC5963684.
Stanton PG. Regulation of the blood-testis barrier. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2016 Nov;59:166-173. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2016.06.018. Epub 2016 Jun 25. PMID: 27353840.
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