Transgenic mice expressing high levels of the BclxL or Bcl2 proteins in the male germinal cells show a highly abnormal adult spermatogenesis accompanied by sterility. This appears to result from the prevention of an early and massive wave of apoptosis in the testis, which occurs among germinal cells during the first round of spermatogenesis. In contrast, sporadic apoptosis among spermatogonia, which occurs in normal adult testis, is not prevented in adult transgenic mice. The physiological early apoptotic wave in the testis is coincident, in timing and localization, with a temporary high expression of the apoptosis-promoting protein Bax, which disappears at sexual maturity. The critical role played by the intracellular balance, probably hormonally controlled, of the BclxL and Bax proteins (Bcl2 is apparently not expressed in normal mouse testis) in this early apoptotic wave is shown by the occurrence of a comparable testicular syndrome in mice defective in the bax gene. The apoptotic wave appears necessary for normal mature spermatogenesis to develop, probably because it maintains a critical cell number ratio between some germinal cell stages and Sertoli cells, whose normal functions and differentiation involve an elaborate network of communication.
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