For decades male germ cells were considered unaffected by aging, due to the fact that males continue to generate sperm into old age; however, evidence indicates that germ cells from aged males are of lower quality than those of young males. The current study examines the effects of aging on pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids, and is the first study to culture these cells in isolation for an extended period. Our objective is to determine the cell-specific responses germ cells have to aging and oxidative insult. Culturing isolated germ cells from young and aged Brown Norway rats revealed that germ cells from aged males displayed an earlier decline in viability, elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and increased spermatocyte DNA damage, compared to young males. Furthermore, oxidative insult by prooxidant 3-morpholinosydnonimine provides insight into how spermatocytes and spermatids manage excess ROS. Genome-wide microarray analyses revealed that several transcripts for antioxidants, Sod1, Cat, and Prdxs, were up-regulated in response to ROS in germ cells from young males while being expressed at lower levels in the aged. In contrast, the expression of DNA damage repair genes Rad50 and Atm were increased in the germ cells from aged animals. Our data indicate that as germ cells undergo spermatogenesis, they adapt and respond to oxidative stress differently, depending on their phase of development, and the process of aging results in redox dysfunction. Thus, even at early stages of spermatogenesis, germ cells from aged males are unable to mount an appropriate response to manage oxidative stress.
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Vol. 93 • No. 3