Scientific reports

Hexavalent chromium induces apoptosis in male somatic and spermatogonial stem cells via redox imbalance.

PMID 26355036


Hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)], an environmental toxicant, causes severe male reproductive abnormalities. However, the actual mechanisms of toxicity are not clearly understood and have not been studied in detail. The present in vitro study aimed to investigate the mechanism of reproductive toxicity of Cr(VI) in male somatic cells (mouse TM3 Leydig cells and TM4 Sertoli cells) and spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) because damage to or dysfunction of these cells can directly affect spermatogenesis, resulting in male infertility. Cr(VI) by inducing oxidative stress was cytotoxic to both male somatic cells and SSCs in a dose-dependent manner, and induced mitochondria-dependent apoptosis. Although the mechanism of Cr(VI)-induced cytotoxicity was similar in both somatic cells, the differences in sensitivity of TM3 and TM4 cells to Cr(VI) could be attributed, at least in part, to cell-specific regulation of P-AKT1, P-ERK1/2, and P-P53 proteins. Cr(VI) affected the differentiation and self-renewal mechanisms of SSCs, disrupted steroidogenesis in TM3 cells, while in TM4 cells, the expression of tight junction signaling and cell receptor molecules was affected as well as the secretory functions were impaired. In conclusion, our results show that Cr(VI) is cytotoxic and impairs the physiological functions of male somatic cells and SSCs.