Naturally occurring heavy metals and synthetic compounds are potentially harmful for testicular function but evidence linking heavy metal exposure to reduced semen parameters is inconclusive. Elucidation of the exact stage at which the toxicant interferes with spermatogenesis is difficult because the various germ cell stages may have different sensitivities to any given toxicant, germ cell development is influenced by supporting testicular somatic cells and the presence of inter-Sertoli cell tight junctions create a blood-testis barrier, sequestering meiotic and postmeiotic germ cells in a special microenvironment. Sharks such as Squalus acanthias provide a suitable model for studying aspects of vertebrate spermatogenosis because of their unique features: spermatogenesis takes place within spermatocysts and relies mainly on Sertoli cells for somatic cell support; spermatocysts are linearly arranged in a maturational order across the diameter of the elongated testis; spermatocysts containing germ cells at different stages of development are topographically separated, resulting in visible zonation in testicular cross sections. We have used the vital dye acridine orange and a novel fluorescence staining technique to study this model to determine (1) the efficacy of these methods in assays of apoptosis and blood-testis barrier function, (2) the sensitivity of the various spermatogonial generations in Squalus to cadmium (as an illustrative spermatotoxicant) and (3) the way that cadmium might affect more mature spermatogenic stages and other physiological processes in the testis. Our results show that cadmium targets early spermatogenic stages, where it specifically activates a cell death program in susceptible (mature) spermatogonial clones, and negatively affects blood-testis barrier function. Since other parameters are relatively unaffected by cadmium, the effects of this toxicant on apoptosis are presumably process-specific and not attributable to general toxicity.