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Concept: Sertoli cell


Concern has been raised over increased male reproductive disorders in the Western world, and the disruption of male endocrinology has been suggested to play a central role. Several studies have shown that mild analgesics exposure during fetal life is associated with antiandrogenic effects and congenital malformations, but the effects on the adult man remain largely unknown. Through a clinical trial with young men exposed to ibuprofen, we show that the analgesic resulted in the clinical condition named “compensated hypogonadism,” a condition prevalent among elderly men and associated with reproductive and physical disorders. In the men, luteinizing hormone (LH) and ibuprofen plasma levels were positively correlated, and the testosterone/LH ratio decreased. Using adult testis explants exposed or not exposed to ibuprofen, we demonstrate that the endocrine capabilities from testicular Leydig and Sertoli cells, including testosterone production, were suppressed through transcriptional repression. This effect was also observed in a human steroidogenic cell line. Our data demonstrate that ibuprofen alters the endocrine system via selective transcriptional repression in the human testes, thereby inducing compensated hypogonadism.

Concepts: Endocrinology, Ovary, Luteinizing hormone, Endocrine system, Testicle, Puberty, Sertoli cell, Testosterone


The decline of circulating testosterone levels in aging men is associated with adverse health effects. During studies of probiotic bacteria and obesity, we discovered that male mice routinely consuming purified lactic acid bacteria originally isolated from human milk had larger testicles and increased serum testosterone levels compared to their age-matched controls. Further investigation using microscopy-assisted histomorphometry of testicular tissue showed that mice consuming Lactobacillus reuteri in their drinking water had significantly increased seminiferous tubule cross-sectional profiles and increased spermatogenesis and Leydig cell numbers per testis when compared with matched diet counterparts This showed that criteria of gonadal aging were reduced after routinely consuming a purified microbe such as L. reuteri. We tested whether these features typical of sustained reproductive fitness may be due to anti-inflammatory properties of L. reuteri, and found that testicular mass and other indicators typical of old age were similarly restored to youthful levels using systemic administration of antibodies blocking pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-17A. This indicated that uncontrolled host inflammatory responses contributed to the testicular atrophy phenotype in aged mice. Reduced circulating testosterone levels have been implicated in many adverse effects; dietary L. reuteri or other probiotic supplementation may provide a viable natural approach to prevention of male hypogonadism, absent the controversy and side-effects of traditional therapies, and yield practical options for management of disorders typically associated with normal aging. These novel findings suggest a potential high impact for microbe therapy in public health by imparting hormonal and gonad features of reproductive fitness typical of much younger healthy individuals.

Concepts: Microbiology, Reproductive system, Bacteria, Sertoli cell, Probiotic, Testicle, Puberty, Lactobacillus


De novo point mutations arise predominantly in the male germline and increase in frequency with age, but it has not previously been possible to locate specific, identifiable mutations directly within the seminiferous tubules of human testes. Using microdissection of tubules exhibiting altered expression of the spermatogonial markers MAGEA4, FGFR3, and phospho-AKT, whole genome amplification, and DNA sequencing, we establish an in situ strategy for discovery and analysis of pathogenic de novo mutations. In 14 testes from men aged 39-90 y, we identified 11 distinct gain-of-function mutations in five genes (fibroblast growth factor receptors FGFR2 and FGFR3, tyrosine phosphatase PTPN11, and RAS oncogene homologs HRAS and KRAS) from 16 of 22 tubules analyzed; all mutations have known associations with severe diseases, ranging from congenital or perinatal lethal disorders to somatically acquired cancers. These results support proposed selfish selection of spermatogonial mutations affecting growth factor receptor-RAS signaling, highlight its prevalence in older men, and enable direct visualization of the microscopic anatomy of elongated mutant clones.

Concepts: Immune system, Sertoli cell, Fibroblast growth factor receptor, DNA, Cancer, Gene, Mutation


Spermatogenesis is a complex process reliant upon interactions between germ cells (GC) and supporting somatic cells. Testicular Sertoli cells (SC) support GCs during maturation through physical attachment, the provision of nutrients, and protection from immunological attack. This role is facilitated by an active cytoskeleton of parallel microtubule arrays that permit transport of nutrients to GCs, as well as translocation of spermatids through the seminiferous epithelium during maturation. It is well established that chemical perturbation of SC microtubule remodelling leads to premature GC exfoliation demonstrating that microtubule remodelling is an essential component of male fertility, yet the genes responsible for this process remain unknown. Using a random ENU mutagenesis approach, we have identified a novel mouse line displaying male-specific infertility, due to a point mutation in the highly conserved ATPase domain of the novel KATANIN p60-related microtubule severing protein Katanin p60 subunit A-like1 (KATNAL1). We demonstrate that Katnal1 is expressed in testicular Sertoli cells (SC) from 15.5 days post-coitum (dpc) and that, consistent with chemical disruption models, loss of function of KATNAL1 leads to male-specific infertility through disruption of SC microtubule dynamics and premature exfoliation of spermatids from the seminiferous epithelium. The identification of KATNAL1 as an essential regulator of male fertility provides a significant novel entry point into advancing our understanding of how SC microtubule dynamics promotes male fertility. Such information will have resonance both for future treatment of male fertility and the development of non-hormonal male contraceptives.

Concepts: Testicle, Genetics, Spermatogenesis, DNA, Gene, Spermatozoon, Sertoli cell, Mutation


Astragalus membranaceus (AM) is a Chinese traditional herb which has been reported to have broad positive effects on many diseases, including hepatitis, heart disease, diabetes and skin disease. AM can promote cell proliferation, increase the activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and inhibit apoptosis by regulating the transcription of proto-oncogenes controlling cell death. While AM is included in some commercially available “testosterone boosting supplements”, studies directly testing ability of AM to modulate testosterone production are lacking. In the present study, we examined the effects of AM on Leydig cell function in vitro.

Concepts: Death, Cancer, Sertoli cell, Luteinizing hormone, Leydig cell, Puberty, Superoxide dismutase, Testosterone


Elevated estradiol levels are correlated with male infertility. Causes of hyperestrogenism include diseases of the adrenal cortex, testis or medications affecting the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis. The aim of our study was to elucidate the effects of estradiol treatment on testicular cellular morphology and function, with reference to the treatment regimen received. Testes samples (n = 9) were obtained post-orchiectomy from male-to-female transsexuals within the age range of 26-52 years. Each patient had a minimum of 1-6 years estradiol treatment. For comparison, additional samples were obtained from microscopically unaltered testicular tissue surrounding tumors (n = 7). The tissues obtained were investigated by stereomicroscopy, histochemistry, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and immunohistochemistry. Our studies revealed that estradiol treatment significantly decreased the diameter of the seminiferous tubules (p < 0.05) and induced fatty degeneration in the surrounding connective tissue. An increase in collagen fiber synthesis in the extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding the seminiferous tubules was also induced. Spermatogenesis was impaired resulting in mainly spermatogonia being present. Sertoli cells revealed diminished expression of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα). Both Sertoli and Leydig cells showed morphological alterations and glycoprotein accumulations. These results demonstrate that increased estradiol levels drastically impact the human testis.

Concepts: Leydig cell, Scanning electron microscope, Male reproductive system, Testicle, Puberty, Estradiol, Testosterone, Sertoli cell


A pharmacologic approach to male contraception remains a longstanding challenge in medicine. Toward this objective, we explored the spermatogenic effects of a selective small-molecule inhibitor (JQ1) of the bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) subfamily of epigenetic reader proteins. Here, we report potent inhibition of the testis-specific member BRDT, which is essential for chromatin remodeling during spermatogenesis. Biochemical and crystallographic studies confirm that occupancy of the BRDT acetyl-lysine binding pocket by JQ1 prevents recognition of acetylated histone H4. Treatment of mice with JQ1 reduced seminiferous tubule area, testis size, and spermatozoa number and motility without affecting hormone levels. Although JQ1-treated males mate normally, inhibitory effects of JQ1 evident at the spermatocyte and round spermatid stages cause a complete and reversible contraceptive effect. These data establish a new contraceptive that can cross the blood:testis boundary and inhibit bromodomain activity during spermatogenesis, providing a lead compound targeting the male germ cell for contraception. PAPERCLIP:

Concepts: Spermatozoon, Puberty, Sertoli cell, Nucleosome, Enzyme inhibitor, Sperm, Histone, Meiosis


Among pregnant women ibuprofen is one of the most frequently used pharmaceutical compounds with up to 28% reporting use. Regardless of this, it remains unknown whether ibuprofen could act as an endocrine disruptor as reported for fellow analgesics paracetamol and aspirin. To investigate this, we exposed human fetal testes (7-17 gestational weeks (GW)) to ibuprofen using ex vivo culture and xenograft systems. Ibuprofen suppressed testosterone and Leydig cell hormone INSL3 during culture of 8-9 GW fetal testes with concomitant reduction in expression of the steroidogenic enzymes CYP11A1, CYP17A1 and HSD17B3, and of INSL3. Testosterone was not suppressed in testes from fetuses younger than 8 GW, older than 10-12 GW, or in second trimester xenografted testes (14-17 GW). Ex vivo, ibuprofen also affected Sertoli cell by suppressing AMH production and mRNA expression of AMH, SOX9, DHH, and COL2A1. While PGE2 production was suppressed by ibuprofen, PGD2 production was not. Germ cell transcripts POU5F1, TFAP2C, LIN28A, ALPP and KIT were also reduced by ibuprofen. We conclude that, at concentrations relevant to human exposure and within a particular narrow ‘early window’ of sensitivity within first trimester, ibuprofen causes direct endocrine disturbances in the human fetal testis and alteration of the germ cell biology.

Concepts: Paracetamol, Leydig cell, Testosterone, Fetus, Embryo, Pregnancy, Sertoli cell, Puberty


Zika virus (ZIKV) infection of pregnant women can cause congenital malformations including microcephaly, which has focused global attention on this emerging pathogen(1). In addition to transmission by mosquitoes, ZIKV can be detected in the seminal fluid of affected males for extended periods of time and transmitted sexually(2). Here, using a mouse-adapted African ZIKV strain (Dakar 41519), we evaluated the consequences of infection in the male reproductive tract of mice. We observed persistence of ZIKV, but not the closely related Dengue virus (DENV), in the testis and epididymis of male mice, and this was associated with tissue injury that caused diminished testosterone and inhibin B levels, and oligospermia. ZIKV preferentially infected spermatogonia, primary spermatocytes, and Sertoli cells in the testis, resulting in cell death and destruction of the seminiferous tubules. Less damage was observed with a contemporary Asian ZIKV strain (H/PF/2013), in part because this virus replicates less efficiently in mice. The extent to which these observations in mice translate to humans remains unclear, but longitudinal studies of sperm function and viability in ZIKV-infected humans seem warranted.

Concepts: Epididymis, Sperm, Spermatogenesis, Reproductive system, Male reproductive system, Reproduction, Spermatozoon, Sertoli cell


Leydig cells (LCs) play crucial roles in producing testosterone, and their dysfunction leads to male hypogonadism. LC transplantation is a promising alternative therapy for male hypogonadism. However, the source of LCs limits this strategy for clinical applications. Here, we report our success in reprogramming mice fibroblasts into LCs by expressing three transcriptional factors, Dmrt1, Gata4, and Nr5a1. The induced Leydig-like cells (iLCs) expressed steroidogenic genes, had a global gene expression profile similar to that of adult LCs, and acquired androgen synthesis capabilities. When iLCs were transplanted into rats or mice testes that were selectively depleted of endogenous LCs, the transplanted cells could survive and function in the interstitium of testis, resulting in the restoration of normal levels of serum testosterone. These findings demonstrate that the fibroblasts were able to be directly converted into iLCs by few defined factors, which may facilitate future applications in regenerative medicine.

Concepts: Transcription, Genetics, Sertoli cell, Puberty, Testosterone, DNA, Gene expression, Gene