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Urology - Physiology

Autophagy and Apoptosis Act as Partners to Induce Germ Cell Death after Heat Stress in Mice
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Author: Mianqiu Zhang et al.

by Mianqiu Zhang, Min Jiang, Ye Bi, Hui Zhu, Zuomin Zhou, Jiahao Sha

Testicular heating suppresses spermatogenesis which is marked by germ cell loss via apoptotic pathways. Recently, it is reported that autophagy also can be induced by heat treatment in somatic cells. In this study, the status of autophagy in germ cells after heat treatment, as well as the partnership between autophagy and apoptosis in these cells was investigated. The results demonstrated that besides initiating apoptotic pathways, heat also induced autophagic pathways in germ cells. Exposure of germ cells to hyperthermia resulted in several specific features of the autophagic process, including autophagosome formation and the conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II. Furthermore, the ubiquitin-like protein conjugation system was implicated as being likely responsible for heat-induced autophagy in germ cells since all genes involving this system were found to be expressed in the testes. In addition, the upstream protein in this system, Atg7 (Autophagy-related gene 7), was found to be expressed in all types of spermatogenic cells, and its expression level was positively correlated with the level of autophagy in germ cells. As a result, Atg7 was selected as the investigative target to further analyze the role of autophagy in heat-induced germ cell death. It was shown that down expression of Atg7 protein resulted in the notable decrease in the level of autophagy in heat-treated germ cells, and this down-regulation of autophagy caused by Atg7 knockdown further reduced the apoptotic rate of germ cells. These results suggest that autophagy plays a positive role in the process of germ cell apoptosis after heat treatment. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that heat triggers autophagy and apoptosis in germ cells. These two mechanisms might act as partners, not antagonist, to induce cell death and lead to eventual destruction of spermatogenesis.