Fetal leydig cells persist as an androgen-independent subpopulation in the postnatal testis

Yuichi Shima, Sawako Matsuzaki, Kanako Miyabayashi, Hiroyuki Otake, Takashi Baba, Shigeaki Kato, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Ken Ichirou Morohashi

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56 Citations (Scopus)


Two distinct types of Leydig cells emerge during the development of eutherian mammals. Fetal Leydig cells (FLCs) appear shortly after gonadal sex differentiation, and play a crucial role in masculinization of male fetuses. Meanwhile, adult Leydig cells (ALCs) emerge after birth and induce the secondary male-specific sexual maturation by producing testosterone. Previous histological studies suggested that FLCs regress completely soon after birth. Furthermore, gene disruption studies indicated that androgen signaling is dispensable for FLC differentiation but indispensable for postnatal ALC differentiation. Here, we performed lineage tracing of FLCs using a FLC enhancer of the Ad4BP/SF-1 (Nr5a1) gene and found that FLCs persist in the adult testis. Given that postnatal FLCs expressed androgen receptor (AR) as well as LH receptor (LuR), the effects of AR disruption on FLCs and ALCs were analyzed by crossing AR knockout (KO) mice with FLCspecific enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) mice. Moreover, to eliminate the influence of elevated LH levels in ARKO mice, LuRKO mice and AR/LuR double-KO mice were analyzed. The proportion of ALCs to postnatal FLCs was decreased in ARKO mice, and the effect was augmented in the double-KO mice, suggesting that androgen signaling plays important roles in ALCs, but not in FLCs. Finally, ARKO was achieved in an FLC-specific manner (FLCARKO mice), but the FLC number and gene expression pattern appeared unaffected. These findings support the conclusion that FLCs persist as an androgen-independent Leydig subpopulation in the postnatal testis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1593
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Endocrinology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology


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