Now, Fleck, Kenzler et al. have shown that, in mice, muscle-like cells are located within the walls of seminiferous tubules. Using CLARITY and a Leica digital light-sheet (DLS) microscope, Fleck, Kenzler et al. imaged these smooth muscle cells in the intact tissue. A 3D reconstruction of fluorescently labeled cells and organelles from light-sheet images allows unprecedented insight into testicular anatomy. The muscle cells in the tubule walls create waves of contractions that push sperm along the fluid-filled lumen. Further experiments were then conducted on cells grown in the laboratory. These experiments revealed that a signaling molecule called ATP orchestrates this moving process by activating a cascade of molecular events that result in contractions. Fleck, Kenzler et al. then utilized intravital multiphoton calcium imaging with a Leica multiphoton system to demonstrate that this mechanism occurs in living mice. Together, these results provide a better understanding of how sperm mature, which could potentially be relevant for both male infertility and birth control.
Analyzing Structural and Functional Testicular Anatomy
Lightsheet and multiphoton microscopy of luminal sperm transport in mouse testis
Sperm originates from the testis. In the so-called seminiferous tubules, they begin their journey as individual cells. After being physically detached from their nursery cells, the smallest cells of the human body are not yet able to beat their long tails that will later allow them to travel through the female reproductive tract. It is, therefore, unclear how sperm cells are transported through the maze of seminiferous tubules towards the epididymis where they undergo further maturation steps to be eventually released to fulfill their ultimate task of fertilizing an oocyte and helping to create new life.
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