Physiology of Sertoli Cells

Population Council researchers are studying the physiology of Sertoli cells to support the development of new reversible male contraceptives.

The Issue

Limited options for male contraception exist beyond the condom and vasectomy, yet there is a high level of interest among men and women in identifying new avenues for safe, effective, and reversible male contraception. Scientists have been studying many approaches to understanding the function of Sertoli cells to enable the development of new options for men.

The Progress

Since the early 1990s, researchers at the Population Council have been studying growth factors that mediate communication between Sertoli cells (the supporting, elongated epithelial cells in the testes that support germ cell growth) and germ cells that eventually develop into sperm.

This cell-to-cell communication is critical for regulating sperm production. Without the presence of Sertoli cells, a clinical condition called “Sertoli cell-only” infertility, a man cannot produce sperm.

Council researchers are evaluating the supporting role of Sertoli cells in men and rats during the production of mature sperm (spermatogenesis). This research has also helped increase understanding of male reproductive physiology and the role of Sertoli cells in male fertility. Studies have suggested that dysfunctional Sertoli cells may cause male infertility. Additional research is ongoing to extend these findings.

The Impact

This research has improved understanding of the function and physiology of Sertoli cells and the potential impact on regulation of fertility in men. The particular factors that mediate the effects of sperm cell growth could lead to the design of new therapies to address some types of infertility in men. Further understanding of how these interactive pathways function across both germ cells and Sertoli cells may help scientists design safe, reversible male contraceptives that work by interfering with sperm production.

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