Dimethoate is a widely used organophosphate insecticide that has been shown to disrupt reproductive function in animals. Although the pathogenesis of Dimethoate-induced reproductive toxicity remains to be determined, a reduction in serum testosterone levels is thought to play an important role in the development of Dimethoate-induced infertility. Since Leydig cells play a crucial role in male reproductive function by producing testosterone, the mouse MA-10 Leydig tumor cell line was used to determine if Dimethoate can directly block steroid hormone biosynthesis and to identify the site of steroidogenic inhibition. Dimethoate inhibited steroidogenesis in both a dose- and time-dependent manner without affecting total protein synthesis or protein kinase A activity. While it decreased the activity of the P450 side chain cleavage (P450 scc) enzyme, a reduction in the activity of this enzyme alone could not account for the level of Bu(2)cAMP-inhibited progesterone production. Instead, our results suggest that Dimethoate inhibited steroidogenesis primarily by blocking transcription of the steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) gene. This finding is significant since StAR protein mediates the rate-limiting and acutely-regulated step in steroidogenesis, the transfer of cholesterol from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membrane. This study indicates that StAR may be an important target for environmental pollutants which disrupt steroidogenesis and impair reproductive function.
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