Journal Article

Drug transporters, the blood-testis barrier, and spermatogenesis

The blood-testis barrier (BTB), which is created by adjacent Sertoli cells near the basement membrane, serves as a ‘gatekeeper’ to prohibit harmful substances from reaching developing germ cells, most notably postmeiotic spermatids. The BTB also divides the seminiferous epithelium into the basal and adluminal (apical) compartment so that postmeiotic spermatid development, namely spermiogenesis, can take place in a specialized microenvironment in the apical compartment behind the BTB. The BTB also contributes, at least in part, to the immune privilege status of the testis, so that anti-sperm antibodies are not developed against antigens that are expressed transiently during spermatogenesis. Recent studies have shown that numerous drug transporters are expressed by Sertoli cells. However, many of these same drug transporters are also expressed by spermatogonia, spermatocytes, round spermatids, elongating spermatids, and elongated spermatids, suggesting that the developing germ cells are also able to selectively pump drugs ‘in’ and/or ‘out’ via influx or efflux pumps. We review herein the latest developments regarding the role of drug transporters in spermatogenesis. We also propose a model utilized by the testis to protect germ cell development from ‘harmful’ environmental toxicants and xenobiotics and/or from ‘therapeutic’ substances (e.g. anticancer drugs). We also discuss how drug transporters that are supposed to protect spermatogenesis can work against the testis in some instances. For example, when drugs (e.g. male contraceptives) that can perturb germ cell adhesion and/or maturation are actively pumped out of the testis or are prevented from entering the apical compartment, such as by efflux pumps.