There is a high incidence of infertility in males following traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Quality of semen is frequently poor in these patients, but the pathophysiological mechanism(s) causing this are not known. Blood-testis barrier (BTB) integrity following SCI has not previously been examined. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of spinal contusion injury on the BTB in the rat. 63 adult, male Sprague Dawley rats received SCI (n = 28), laminectomy only (n = 7) or served as uninjured, age-matched controls (n = 28). Using dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI), BTB permeability to the vascular contrast agent gadopentate dimeglumine (Gd) was assessed at either 72 hours-, or 10 months post-SCI. DCE-MRI data revealed that BTB permeability to Gd was greater than controls at both 72 h and 10 mo post-SCI. Histological evaluation of testis tissue showed increased BTB permeability to immunoglobulin G at both 72 hours- and 10 months post-SCI, compared to age-matched sham-operated and uninjured controls. Tight junctional integrity within the seminiferous epithelium was assessed; at 72 hours post-SCI, decreased expression of the tight junction protein occludin was observed. Presence of inflammation in the testes was also examined. High expression of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1 beta was detected in testis tissue. CD68+ immune cell infiltrate and mast cells were also detected within the seminiferous epithelium of both acute and chronic SCI groups but not in controls. In addition, extensive germ cell apoptosis was observed at 72 h post-SCI. Based on these results, we conclude that SCI is followed by compromised BTB integrity by as early as 72 hours post-injury in rats and is accompanied by a substantial immune response within the testis. Furthermore, our results indicate that the BTB remains compromised and testis immune cell infiltration persists for months after the initial injury.
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