Overexpression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the testis of transgenic mice induces infertility, suggesting a potential role for VEGF in the process of spermatogenesis. Spermatogenesis occurs within the confines of the seminiferous tubules, and the seminiferous epithelium lining these tubules consists of Sertoli cells and germ cells in various stages of maturation. We investigated the source of VEGF and VEGF-target cells within the seminiferous tubules of the normal mouse testis. Sections of testes fixed in Bouin solution and embedded in paraffin were subjected to immunofluorescent staining with specific antibodies against VEGF, and its receptors, VEGFR-1 (Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (Flk-1). Total RNA was extracted from isolated populations of Sertoli cells, type A spermatogonia, pachytene spermatocytes, and spermatids. Primer pairs specific for VEGF and its receptors were designed and reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was performed. Immunofluorescent studies indicated that VEGF is strongly expressed in the cytoplasm of Sertoli cells. VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2 were not expressed by the Sertoli cell. In contrast, a differential expression of VEGF receptors was observed in germ cells. Although VEGFR-2 was expressed in the cytoplasm of type A spermatogonia, VEGFR-1 was expressed in the acrosomal region of spermatids and spermatozoa. Pachytene spermatocytes did not exhibit any staining. Further, we examined the transcription of VEGF and its receptors by RT-PCR. VEGF was actively transcribed only in Sertoli cells. The transcription of VEGFR-2 was confined to type A spermatogonia. Interestingly, VEGFR-1 was transcribed both in pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids. The mRNA expression of VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2 in germ cells was inversely correlated during postnatal development of the mouse testis. Thus, VEGF may play a potential role in regulating the initial stages of the process of spermatogonial proliferation through VEGFR-2 and spermiogenesis through VEGFR-1.
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