We have investigated the arrangement and function of actin filament bundles in Sertoli cell ectoplasmic specializations found adjacent to junctional networks and in areas of adhesion to spermatogenic cells. Tissue was collected, from ground squirrel (Spermophilus spp.) testes, in three ways: seminiferous tubules were fragmented mechanically; segments of intact epithelium and denuded tubule walls were isolated by using EDTA in a phosphate-buffered salt solution; and isolated epithelia and denuded tubule walls were extracted in glycerol. To determine the arrangement of actin bundles, the tissue was fixed, mounted on slides, treated with cold acetone (-20 degrees C), and then exposed to nitrobenzoxadiazole-phallacidin. Myosin was localized using immunofluorescence. To investigate the hypothesis that ectoplasmic specializations are contractile, glycerinated models were exposed to exogenous ATP and Ca++; then contraction was assessed qualitatively by using nitrobenzoxadiazole-phallacidin as a marker. Actin bundles in ectoplasmic specializations adjacent to junctional networks circumscribe the bases of Sertoli cells. When intact epithelia are viewed from an angle perpendicular to the epithelial base, honeycomb staining patterns are observed. Filament bundles in Sertoli cell regions adjacent to spermatogenic cells dramatically change organization during spermatogenesis. Initially, the bundles circle the region of contact between the developing acrosome and nucleus. They then expand to cover the entire head. As the spermatid flattens, filaments on one side of the now saucer-shaped head orient themselves parallel to the germ cell axis while those on the other align perpendicularly to it. Before sperm release, all filaments course parallel to the rim of the head. Contrary to the results we obtained with myoid cells, we could not convincingly demonstrate myosin in ectoplasmic specializations or induce contraction of glycerinated models. Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that actin in ectoplasmic specializations of Sertoli cells may be more skeletal than contractile.

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