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Caroline M Allen, Federica Lopes, Rod T Mitchell, and Norah Spears


Boys administered chemotherapy to treat childhood cancer are at risk of damage to their healthy testicular tissue, which can lead to infertility in adulthood. Researchers are therefore investigating treatments to protect the testis during cancer treatment. Here, cells originating from the testicles of rats were cultured for four days and exposed to chemotherapy drugs with or without antioxidants for the final two days. Antioxidants can reduce cellular damage by inactivating toxic compounds. Here, the antioxidants melatonin or n-acetylcysteine were tested against chemotherapy agents’ cisplatin, doxorubicin, or vincristine. Cultures were repeated four times, with cell survival measured at the end of culture. The antioxidants themselves were not damaging to the cells and partially protected against cisplatin, although not against doxorubicin. Surprisingly, n-acetylcysteine was found to enhance the damage induced by vincristine. The results suggest that using antioxidants to try to protect the testis could have either beneficial or harmful effects when given alongside different chemotherapy drugs: this is important, considering that patients are often treated with multiple drugs which could react differently to protectants.

Michael P Rimmer, Christopher D Gregory, and Rod T Mitchell


To review the role of extracellular vesicles (EVs) released from the male reproductive tract and their impact on developing sperm. We discuss how sperm exiting the seminiferous tubules, although developmentally mature, require further modification. Acquisition of various functions including increased motility, transfer of cargoes and ability to undertake the acrosome reaction is mediated through the interaction between sperm and EVs.


A review of the literature identified that EVs are released from different portions of the male reproductive tract, notably the epididymis and prostate. These EVs interact with sperm as they pass from the seminiferous tubules to the epididymis and vas deferens prior to ejaculation.


EVs are small lipid-bound particles carrying bespoke RNA, protein and lipid cargoes. These cargoes are loaded based on the state of the parent cell and are used to communicate with recipient cells. In sperm, these cargoes are essential for post-testicular modification.


Interactions between developing sperm and EVs are important for the subsequent function of sperm. Prior to ejaculation, these interactions confer important changes for the post-testicular modification and development of sperm. Little is known about the interaction between EVs from the testes and the spermatogonial stem cell niche or developing sperm within the seminiferous tubules. However, the numerous roles of EVs in the post-testicular modification of sperm have led many to suspect that they may also play important roles in developing sperm within the testes.

Lay summary

Sperm are crucial for successful fertility. In order to do this, they must be able to swim a large distance to meet the egg in the female reproductive tract and fertilise it. Once released from the testes, sperm may appear to be fully developed, but this is not the case. Several important modifications are required in order for them to swim and fertilise an egg. These modifications are carried out by sending sperm small packages from other cells which contain messages and cargo. We discuss the release of these small packages along with different parts of the male reproductive tract and how they change the way sperm behave and function. This article reviews the literature and known functions of these packages called extracellular vesicles, which are released by the male reproductive tract and modify sperm, transforming their function, before they are ejaculated.