The effect of the p53 gene on the survival of mouse testicular cells was evaluated by analysis of degenerating and terminal transferase-mediated end labeling (TUNEL)-positive cells and the subsequent production of further differentiated progeny. In p53 null mice, in contrast to wild-type mice, radiation induced negligible levels of degenerating or TUNEL-positive differentiating spermatogonia within 24 h. This was correlated with higher production of differentiated progeny of the differentiating spermatogonia in p53 null mice. Contrary to the differentiating spermatogonia, the stem spermatogonia of p53 null mice produced fewer differentiated progeny after irradiation than did the stem cells of wild-type mice. We conclude that, because the degeneration and TUNEL positivity of the differentiating spermatogonia in mice of different genotypes were correlated with each other and were dependent on p53, this process is indeed apoptosis. In the differentiating spermatogonia, p53-dependent apoptosis accounted for the bulk of the loss of their progeny after irradiation. Furthermore, whereas the differentiating spermatogonia died by apoptosis that was dependent on p53, the stem spermatogonia, which are more radioresistant, did not.

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