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RJ Clifton, L O'Donnell, and DM Robertson

This study investigates the effects of spermatogenic germ cells on inhibin alpha-subunit and beta B-subunit expression, and inhibin alpha-subunit and inhibin B production by rat Sertoli cells in vitro. Sertoli cells isolated from 19-day-old rats were cultured for 48 h at 32 degrees C, in the presence or absence of FSH (2.3-2350 mIU/ml), and in the presence of pachytene spermatocytes, round spermatids or cytoplasts of elongated spermatids purified from adult rat testis by elutriation and density gradient separation. Sertoli cell secretion of inhibin alpha-subunit and inhibin B, as measured by immunoassay, was dose-dependently stimulated by FSH (maximal stimulation 13- and 2-fold, respectively). Round spermatids or cytoplasts co-cultured with Sertoli cells had no effect on basal or FSH-induced secretion of inhibin alpha-subunit or inhibin B. When Sertoli cells were co-cultured with pachytene spermatocytes, inhibin alpha-subunit secretion was unaltered, while inhibin B secretion was suppressed in a cell concentration-dependent manner to reach a maximal suppression of 45% compared with Sertoli cells alone (P<0.01). A similar suppression in inhibin B was still observed (64% of Sertoli cells alone) when the pachytene spermatocytes were separated from Sertoli cells by a 0.45 microm pore membrane barrier in bicameral chambers. Pachytene spermatocytes also suppressed FSH-induced inhibin B levels in Sertoli cell co-cultures and this suppression was attributed to a decrease in basal inhibin B production rather than a change in FSH responsiveness. Quantitation of Sertoli cell inhibin alpha- and beta B-subunit mRNA by quantitative (real-time) PCR demonstrated that pachytene spermatocytes did not alter Sertoli cell alpha-subunit mRNA expression, but significantly (P<0.01) suppressed basal and FSH-induced beta B-subunit mRNA expression to a similar degree to that seen with inhibin B protein levels. It is concluded that pachytene spermatocytes in vitro suppress Sertoli cell inhibin B secretion via factor-mediated suppression of inhibin beta B-subunit expression. These findings support the hypothesis that specific germ cell types can influence inhibin B secretion by the testis independent of FSH regulation.

Free access

P Sluka, L O’Donnell, J R Bartles, and P G Stanton

Spermatogenesis is dependent on the ability of Sertoli cells to form mature junctions that maintain a unique environment within the seminiferous epithelium. Adjacent Sertoli cells form a junctional complex that includes classical adherens junctions and testis-specific ectoplasmic specialisations (ES). The regulation of inter-Sertoli cell junctions by the two main endocrine regulators of spermatogenesis, FSH and testosterone, is unclear. This study aimed to investigate the effects of FSH and testosterone on inter-Sertoli cell adherens junctions (as determined by immunolocalisation of cadherin, catenin and actin) and ES junctions (as determined by immunolocalisation of espin, actin and vinculin) in cultured immature Sertoli cells and GnRH-immunised adult rat testes given FSH or testosterone replacement in vivo. When hormones were absent in vitro, adherens junctions formed as discrete puncta between interdigitating, finger-like projections of Sertoli cells, but ES junctions were not present. The adherens junction puncta included actin filaments that were oriented perpendicularly to the Sertoli cell plasma membrane, but were not associated with the intermediate filament protein vimentin. When FSH was added in vitro, ES junctions formed, and adjacent adherens junction puncta fused into extensive adherens junction belts. After hormone suppression in vivo, ES junctions were absent, while FSH replacement restored ES junctions, as confirmed by electron microscopy and confocal analysis of ES-associated proteins. Testosterone alone did not affect adherens junctions or ES in vitro or in vivo. We conclude that FSH can regulate the formation of ES junctions and stimulate the organisation and orientation of extensive adherens junctions in Sertoli cells.

Free access

K Pratis, L O'Donnell, GT Ooi, PG Stanton, RI McLachlan, and DM Robertson

Testosterone is metabolised to the more potent androgen, dihydrotestosterone, by the 5alpha-reductase (5alphaR) enzyme. We previously showed that 5alpha-reduced androgens are important for maintaining androgen action on rat spermatogenesis when testicular testosterone concentrations are reduced. This study investigated expression and activity of the 5alphaR isoforms, type 1 (5alphaR-1) and type 2 (5alphaR-2), in the rat during hormone manipulation in order to understand the factors that regulate the testicular concentration of 5alphaR and testicular 5alpha-reduced androgen biosynthesis. Testicular 5alphaR-1 and 5alphaR-2 mRNA and enzyme activity were measured by real-time PCR and specific enzyme assays respectively. Hormone levels were first suppressed using two models of gonadotrophin suppression: testosterone and oestradiol treatment (LH/testosterone deficiency) or GnRH immunisation (LH/testosterone and FSH deficiency). Hormones were then either restored or suppressed for 6 days by a variety of hormonal treatments. 5alphaR-1 mRNA and enzyme activity increased when testosterone was suppressed, yet restoration of testosterone decreased 5alphaR-1 mRNA and enzyme activity, suggesting that testosterone negatively regulates 5alphaR-1. suppression of FSH decreased 5alphaR-1 mRNA yet FSH administration increased 5alphaR-1 mRNA, but no changes in 5alphaR-1 activity were observed within the 6 day period. In contrast to 5alphaR-1, testosterone did not affect the testicular concentration of 5alphaR-2 mRNA or activity, but there was evidence for modulation of 5alphaR-2 activity by FSH. Measurement of testicular androgens revealed that 5alphaR-1 was primarily responsible for the production of 5alpha-reduced metabolites. It is concluded that the 5alphaR isoforms in rat testis are differentially regulated by testosterone and FSH: testosterone negatively regulated 5alphaR-1 mRNA and enzyme activity but had no affect on 5alphaR-2, whereas FSH positively regulated 5alphaR-1 mRNA and appeared to regulate 5alphaR-2.

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R I McLachlan, N G Wreford, L O'Donnell, D M de Kretser, and D M Robertson


The adult testis has two important roles, namely the production of spermatozoa (fertility) and the secretion of testosterone which is needed for the expression of secondary sexual characteristics (virility). These functions depend on stimulation by the pituitary gonadotrophins, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are stimulated by hypothalamic gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Testosterone is secreted by the Leydig cells under LH stimulation and is essential for promoting spermatogenesis. While FSH has a role in the development of the immature testis (Orth 1993), controversy persists as to whether FSH is essential for the maintenance of adult spermatogenesis. A better understanding of the hormonal requirements of adult spermatogenesis is needed for the development of rational treatments for human infertility and in designing contraceptive strategies.

This review will outline the data regarding the roles of testosterone and FSH in adult spermatogenesis and follows previous discussion in this Journal (Rommerts 1988, Sharpe