The effects of aging on the seminiferous epithelium and the blood-testis barrier of the Brown Norway rat.J Androl. 1999 May-Jun; 20(3):356-65.JA
Steroidogenesis and spermatogenesis decrease in aging Brown Norway rats. We therefore hypothesized that there must be accompanying morphological changes taking place in the seminiferous tubules of the aging testis. The testes of Brown Norway rats ranging in age from 3 to 24 months were prepared for light and electron microscopy. To assess the integrity of the blood-testis barrier with age, a lanthanum nitrate study was done. The normal seminiferous tubules present in rats at 3 and 12 months of age were largely replaced at 24 months by fully regressed tubules that were virtually devoid of germ cells and contained large intercellular spaces. An electron-microscopic study of these regressed tubules showed a complete loss of cyclical variations of the organelles of the Sertoli cells. The nucleus was more irregularly shaped and was present at various levels in the epithelium. The endoplasmic reticulum was a loose, vesiculated network that was unlike the elaborate, tubular, anastomotic network noted in young animals. The lysosomes were large, oddly-shaped, and contained lipidic inclusions, in contrast to the distinct membrane-bound lysosomes and dense core bodies found in the young animals. Adjacent Sertoli cell processes encompassed large, empty intercellular spaces, possibly occupied previously by germ cells. The typical Sertoli-Sertoli junctions of the blood-testis barrier in the young animal were rarely seen at 24 months and were replaced by focal contact points, usually between three Sertoli cell processes. In the aged animals, lanthanum nitrate permeated the basal and adluminal compartments, extending between Sertoli cell processes and entering the intercellular spaces and lumen. In summary, during aging, there is a breakdown of the blood-testis barrier, and there are striking changes in the appearance of Sertoli cells. These results suggest a possible intrinsic limitation that prevents stem cells from renewing themselves, whether because of a degeneration of immunological origin or because of a lack of Sertoli cell support.