Revisiting the human seminiferous epithelium cycle
Can all types of testicular germ cells be accurately identified by microscopy techniques and unambiguously distributed in stages of the human seminiferous epithelium cycle (SEC)?
By using a high-resolution light microscopy (HRLM) method, which enables an improved visualization of germ cell morphological features, we identified all testicular germ cells in the seminiferous epithelium and precisely grouped them in six well-delimitated SEC stages, thus providing a reliable reference source for staging in man.
Morphological characterization of germ cells in human has been done decades ago with the use of conventional histological methods (formaldehyde-based fixative -Zenker-formal- and paraffin embedding). These early studies proposed a classification of the SEC in six stages. However, the use of stages as baseline for morphofunctional evaluations of testicular parenchyma has been difficult because of incomplete morphological identification of germ cells and their random distribution in the human SEC.
Testicular tissue from adult and elderly donors with normal spermatogenesis according to Levin’s, Johnsen’s and Bergmann’s scores were used to evaluate germ cell morphology and validate their distribution and frequency in stages throughout human spermatogenesis.
Testicular tissue from patients diagnosed with congenital bilateral agenesis of vas deferens (n = 3 adults) or prostate cancer (n = 3 elderly) were fixed in glutaraldehyde and embedded in araldite epoxy resin. Morphological analyses were performed by both light and transmission electron microscopy.
HRLM method enabled a reliable morphological identification of all germ cells (spermatogonia, spermatocytes and spermatids) based on high-resolution aspects of euchromatin, heterochromatin and nucleolus. Moreover, acrosomal development of spermatids was clearly revealed. Altogether, our data redefined the limits of each stage leading to a more reliable determination of the SEC in man.
Occasionally, germ cells can be absent in some tubular sections. In this situation, it has to be taken into account the germ cell association proposed in the present study to classify the stages.
Our findings bring a new focus on the morphology and development of germ cells during the SEC in human. Application of HRLM may be a valuable tool for research studies and clinical andrology helping to understand some testicular diseases and infertility conditions which remain unsolved.
Experiments were partially supported by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG) and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq). The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.