In Vitro and In Vivo Models for Drug Transport Across the Blood-Testis Barrier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The blood-testis barrier (BTB) is a selectively permeable membrane barrier formed by adjacent Sertoli cells (SCs) in the seminiferous tubules of the testes that develops intercellular junctional complexes to protect developing germ cells from external pressures. However, due to this inherent defense mechanism, the seminiferous tubule lumen can act as a pharmacological sanctuary site for latent viruses (e.g., Ebola, Zika) and cancers (e.g., leukemia). Therefore, it is critical to identify and evaluate BTB carrier-mediated drug delivery pathways to successfully treat these viruses and cancers. Many drugs are unable to effectively cross cell membranes without assistance from carrier proteins like transporters because they are large, polar, and often carry a charge at physiologic pH. SCs express transporters that selectively permit endogenous compounds, such as carnitine or nucleosides, across the BTB to support normal physiologic activity, although reproductive toxicants can also use these pathways, thereby circumventing the BTB. Certain xenobiotics, including select cancer therapeutics, antivirals, contraceptives, and environmental toxicants, are known to accumulate within the male genital tract and cause testicular toxicity; however, the transport pathways by which these compounds circumvent the BTB are largely unknown. Consequently, there is a need to identify the clinically relevant BTB transport pathways in in vitro and in vivo BTB models that recapitulate human pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics for these xenobiotics. This review summarizes the various in vitro and in vivo models of the BTB reported in the literature and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of certain models for drug disposition studies. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Drug disposition to the testes is influenced by the physical, physiological, and immunological components of the blood-testis barrier (BTB). But many compounds are known to cross the BTB by transporters, resulting in pharmacological and/or toxicological effects in the testes. Therefore, models that assess drug transport across the human BTB must adequately account for these confounding factors. This review identifies and discusses the benefits and limitations of various in vitro and in vivo BTB models for preclinical drug disposition studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1168
Number of pages12
JournalDrug Metabolism and Disposition
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science

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