Leptin, the product of the ob gene, has emerged recently as a pivotal signal in the regulation of fertility. Although the actions of leptin in the control of reproductive function are thought to be exerted mainly at the hypothalamic level, the potential direct effects of leptin at the pituitary and gonadal level have been poorly characterised. In the present study, we first assessed the ability of leptin to regulate testicular testosterone secretion in vitro. Secondly, we aimed to evaluate whether leptin can modulate basal gonadotrophin and prolactin (PRL) release by incubated hemi-pituitaries from fasted male rats. To attain the first goal, testicular slices from prepubertal and adult rats were incubated with increasing concentrations (10(-9)-10(-7) M) of recombinant leptin. Assuming that in vitro testicular responsiveness to leptin may be dependent on the background leptin levels, testicular tissue from both food-deprived and normally-fed animals was used. Furthermore, leptin modulation of stimulated testosterone secretion was evaluated by incubation of testicular samples with different doses of leptin in the presence of 10 IU human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). In addition, analysis of leptin actions on pituitary function was carried out using hemi-pituitaries from fasted adult male rats incubated in the presence of increasing concentrations (10(-9)-10(-7) M) of recombinant leptin. Serum testosterone levels, and basal and hCG-stimulated testosterone secretion by incubated testicular tissue were significantly decreased by fasting in prepubertal and adult male rats. However, a significant reduction in circulating LH levels was only evident in adult fasted rats. Doses of 10(-9)-10(-7) M leptin had no effect on basal or hCG-stimulated testosterone secretion by testes from prepubertal rats, regardless of the nutritional state of the donor animal. In contrast, leptin significantly decreased basal and hCG-induced testosterone secretion by testes from fasted and fed adult rats. In addition, 10(-9) M leptin inhibited LH and FSH secretion by incubated hemi-pituitaries from fasted adult males, whereas, at all doses tested, it was ineffective in modulating PRL release. Our results show that leptin, depending on the state of sexual maturation, is able to inhibit testosterone secretion acting at the testicular level. Furthermore, the present data suggest that the actions of leptin on the reproductive system are complex and are probably carried out at different levels of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.
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