Project description:Fetal testis steroidogenesis plays an important role in the reproductive development of the male fetus. While regulators of certain aspects of steroidogenesis are known, the initial driver of steroidogenesis in the human and rodent fetal testis is unclear. Through comparative analysis of rodent fetal testis microarray datasets, 54 candidate fetal Leydig cell-specific genes were identified. Fetal mouse testis interstitial expression of a subset of these genes with unknown expression (Crhr1, Gramd1b, Itih5, Vgll3, and Vsnl1) was verified by whole-mount in situ hybridization. Among the candidate fetal Leydig cell-specific factors, three receptors (CRHR1, PRLR, and PROKR2) were tested for a steroidogenic function using ex vivo fetal testes treated with receptor agonists (CRH, PRL, and PROK2). While PRL and PROK2 had no effect, CRH, at low (approximately 1 to 10) nM concentration, increased expression of the steroidogenic genes Cyp11a1, Cyp17a1, Scarb1, and Star in GD15 mouse and GD17 rat testes, and in conjunction, testosterone production was increased. Exposure of GD15 fetal mouse testis to a specific CRHR1 antagonist blunted the CRH-induced steroidogenic gene expression and testosterone responses. Similar to ex vivo rodent fetal testes, ? 10 nM CRH exposure of MA-10 Leydig cells increased steroidogenic pathway mRNA and progesterone levels, showing CRH can enhance steroidogenesis by directly targeting Leydig cells. Crh mRNA expression was observed in rodent fetal hypothalamus, and CRH peptide was detected in rodent amniotic fluid. Together, these data provide a resource for discovering factors controlling fetal Leydig cell biology and suggest that CRHR1 activation by CRH stimulates rat and mouse fetal Leydig cell steroidogenesis in vivo.
Project description:Fetal rat phthalate exposure produces a spectrum of male reproductive tract malformations downstream of reduced Leydig cell testosterone production, but the molecular mechanism of phthalate perturbation of Leydig cell function is not well understood. By bioinformatically examining fetal testis expression microarray data sets from susceptible (rat) and resistant (mouse) species after dibutyl phthalate (DBP) exposure, we identified decreased expression of several metabolic pathways in both species. However, lipid metabolism pathways transcriptionally regulated by sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP) were inhibited in the rat but induced in the mouse, and this differential species response corresponded with repression of the steroidogenic pathway. In rats exposed to 100 or 500 mg/kg DBP from gestational days (GD) 16 to 20, a correlation was observed between GD20 testis steroidogenic inhibition and reductions of testis cholesterol synthesis endpoints including testis total cholesterol levels, Srebf2 gene expression, and cholesterol synthesis pathway gene expression. SREBP2 expression was detected in all fetal rat testis cells but was highest in Leydig cells. Quantification of SREBP2 immunostaining showed that 500 mg/kg DBP exposure significantly reduced SREBP2 expression in rat fetal Leydig cells but not in seminiferous cords. By Western analysis, total rat testis SREBP2 levels were not altered by DBP exposure. Together, these data suggest that phthalate-induced inhibition of fetal testis steroidogenesis is closely associated with reduced activity of several lipid metabolism pathways and SREBP2-dependent cholesterologenesis in Leydig cells.
Project description:Leydig cells are the steroidogenic lineage of the mammalian testis that produces testosterone, a key hormone required throughout male fetal and adult life for virilization and spermatogenesis. Both fetal and adult Leydig cells arise from a progenitor population in the testis interstitium but are thought to be lineage-independent of one another. Genetic evidence indicates that Notch signaling is required during fetal life to maintain a balance between differentiated Leydig cells and their progenitors, but the elusive progenitor cell type and ligands involved have not been identified. In this study, we show that the Notch pathway signals through the ligand JAG1 in perivascular interstitial cells during fetal life. In the early postnatal testis, we show that circulating levels of testosterone directly affect Notch signaling, implicating a feedback role for systemic circulating factors in the regulation of progenitor cells. Between Postnatal Days 3 and 21, as fetal Leydig cells disappear from the testis and are replaced by adult Leydig cells, the perivascular population of interstitial cells active for Notch signaling declines, consistent with distinct regulation of adult Leydig progenitors.
Project description:Formation of tubular structures relies upon complex interactions between adjacent epithelium and mesenchyme. In the embryonic testes, dramatic compartmentalization leads to the formation of testis cords (epithelium) and the surrounding interstitium (mesenchyme). Sertoli cells, the epithelial cell type within testis cords, produce signaling molecules to orchestrate testis cord formation. The interstitial fetal Leydig cells, however, are thought only to masculinize the embryo and are not known to be involved in testis cord morphogenesis. Contrary to this notion, we have identified activin A, a member of the TGF-beta protein superfamily, as a product of the murine fetal Leydig cells that acts directly upon Sertoli cells to promote their proliferation during late embryogenesis. Genetic disruption of activin betaA, the gene encoding activin A, specifically in fetal Leydig cells resulted in a failure of fetal testis cord elongation and expansion due to decreased Sertoli cell proliferation. Conditional inactivation of Smad4, the central component of TGF-beta signaling, in Sertoli cells led to testis cord dysgenesis and proliferative defects similar to those of Leydig cell-specific activin betaA knockout testes. These results indicate that activin A is the major TGF-beta protein that acts directly on Sertoli cells. Testicular dysgenesis in activin betaA and Smad4 conditional knockout embryos persists into adulthood, leading to low sperm production and abnormal testicular histology. Our findings challenge the paradigm that fetal testis development is solely under the control of Sertoli cells, by uncovering an active and essential role of fetal Leydig cells during testis cord morphogenesis.
Project description:As the central component of canonical TGFbeta superfamily signaling, SMAD4 is a critical regulator of organ development, patterning, tumorigenesis, and many other biological processes. Because numerous TGFbeta superfamily ligands are expressed in developing testes, there may exist specific requirements for SMAD4 in individual testicular cell types. Previously, we reported that expansion of the fetal testis cords requires expression of SMAD4 by the Sertoli cell lineage. To further uncover the role of Smad4 in murine testes, we produced conditional knockout mice lacking Smad4 in either Leydig cells or in both Sertoli and Leydig cells simultaneously. Loss of Smad4 concomitantly in Sertoli and Leydig cells led to underdevelopment of the testis cords during fetal life and mild testicular dysgenesis in young adulthood (decreased testis size, partially dysgenic seminiferous tubules, and low sperm production). When the Sertoli/Leydig cell Smad4 conditional knockout mice aged (56- to 62-wk old), the testis phenotypes became exacerbated with the appearance of hemorrhagic tumors, Leydig cell adenomas, and a complete loss of spermatogenesis. In contrast, loss of Smad4 in Leydig cells alone did not appreciably alter fetal and adult testis development. Our findings support a cell type-specific requirement of Smad4 in testis development and suppression of testicular tumors.
Project description:During testis development, fetal Leydig cells increase their population from a pool of progenitor cells rather than from proliferation of a differentiated cell population. However, the mechanism that regulates Leydig stem cell self-renewal and differentiation is unknown. Here, we show that blocking Notch signaling, by inhibiting gamma-secretase activity or deleting the downstream target gene Hairy/Enhancer-of-split 1, results in an increase in Leydig cells in the testis. By contrast, constitutively active Notch signaling in gonadal somatic progenitor cells causes a dramatic Leydig cell loss, associated with an increase in undifferentiated mesenchymal cells. These results indicate that active Notch signaling restricts fetal Leydig cell differentiation by promoting a progenitor cell fate. Germ cell loss and abnormal testis cord formation were observed in both gain- and loss-of-function gonads, suggesting that regulation of the Leydig/interstitial cell population is important for male germ cell survival and testis cord formation.
Project description:The neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and subtypes of GABA receptors were recently identified in adult testes. Since adult Leydig cells possess both the GABA biosynthetic enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), as well as GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors, it is possible that GABA may act as auto-/paracrine molecule to regulate Leydig cell function. The present study was aimed to examine effects of GABA, which may include trophic action. This assumption is based on reports pinpointing GABA as regulator of proliferation and differentiation of developing neurons via GABA(A) receptors. Assuming such a role for the developing testis, we studied whether GABA synthesis and GABA receptors are already present in the postnatal testis, where fetal Leydig cells and, to a much greater extend, cells of the adult Leydig cell lineage proliferate. Immunohistochemistry, RT-PCR, Western blotting and a radioactive enzymatic GAD assay evidenced that fetal Leydig cells of five-six days old rats possess active GAD protein, and that both fetal Leydig cells and cells of the adult Leydig cell lineage possess GABA(A) receptor subunits. TM3 cells, a proliferating mouse Leydig cell line, which we showed to possess GABA(A) receptor subunits by RT-PCR, served to study effects of GABA on proliferation. Using a colorimetric proliferation assay and Western Blotting for proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) we demonstrated that GABA or the GABA(A) agonist isoguvacine significantly increased TM3 cell number and PCNA content in TM3 cells. These effects were blocked by the GABA(A) antagonist bicuculline, implying a role for GABA(A) receptors. In conclusion, GABA increases proliferation of TM3 Leydig cells via GABA(A) receptor activation and proliferating Leydig cells in the postnatal rodent testis bear a GABAergic system. Thus testicular GABA may play an as yet unrecognized role in the development of Leydig cells during the differentiation of the testicular interstitial compartment.
Project description:Androgens responsible for male sexual differentiation in utero are produced by Leydig cells in the fetal testicular interstitium. Leydig cells rarely proliferate and, hence, rely on constant differentiation of interstitial progenitors to increase their number during fetal development. The cellular origins of fetal Leydig progenitors and how they are maintained remain largely unknown. Here we show that Notch-active, Nestin-positive perivascular cells in the fetal testis are a multipotent progenitor population, giving rise to Leydig cells, pericytes, and smooth muscle cells. When vasculature is disrupted, perivascular progenitor cells fail to be maintained and excessive Leydig cell differentiation occurs, demonstrating that blood vessels are a critical component of the niche that maintains interstitial progenitor cells. Additionally, our data strongly supports a model in which fetal Leydig cell differentiation occurs by at least two different means, with each having unique progenitor origins and distinct requirements for Notch signaling to maintain the progenitor population.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The interstitium of the mouse testis contains Leydig cells and a small number of steroidogenic cells with adrenal characteristics which may be derived from the fetal adrenal during development or may be a normal subset of the developing fetal Leydig cells. Currently it is not known what regulates development and/or proliferation of this sub-population of steroidogenic cells in the mouse testis. Androgen receptors (AR) are essential for normal testicular function and in this study we have examined the role of the AR in regulating interstitial cell development. RESULTS:Using a mouse model which lacks gonadotropins and AR (hpg.ARKO), stimulation of luteinising hormone receptors in vivo with human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) caused a marked increase in adrenal cell transcripts/protein in a group of testicular interstitial cells. hCG also induced testicular transcripts associated with basic steroidogenic function in these mice but had no effect on adult Leydig cell-specific transcript levels. In hpg mice with functional AR, treatment with hCG induced Leydig cell-specific function and had no effect on adrenal transcript levels. Examination of mice with cell-specific AR deletion and knockdown of AR in a mouse Leydig cell line suggests that AR in the Leydig cells are likely to regulate these effects. CONCLUSIONS:This study shows that in the mouse the androgen receptor is required both to prevent development of testicular cells with adrenal characteristics and to ensure development of an adult Leydig cell phenotype.
Project description:Dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP) is one of the phthalate plasticizers. The objective of the present study was to investigate the effects of DCHP on fetal Leydig cell distribution and function as well as testis development. Female pregnant Sprague Dawley dams orally received vehicle (corn oil, control) or DCHP (10, 100, and 500 mg/kg/day) from gestational day (GD) 12 to GD 21. At GD 21.5, testicular testosterone production, fetal Leydig cell number and distribution, testicular gene and protein expression levels were examined. DCHP administration produced a dose-dependent increase of the incidence of multinucleated gonocytes at ? 100 mg/kg. DCHP dose-dependently increased abnormal fetal Leydig cell aggregation and decreased fetal Leydig cell size, cytoplasmic size, and nuclear size at ? 10 mg/kg. DCHP reduced the expression levels of steroidogenesis-related genes (including Star, Hsd3b1, and Hsd17b3) and testis-descent related gene Insl3 as well as protein levels of 3?-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 (HSD3B1) and insulin-like 3 (INSL3) at ? 10 mg/kg. DCHP significantly inhibited testicular testosterone levels at ? 100 mg/kg. The results indicate that in utero exposure to DCHP affects the expression levels of fetal Leydig cell steroidogenic genes and results in the occurrence of multinucleated gonocytes and Leydig cell aggregation.