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      The Sertoli Cell – A Hormonal Target and ‘Super’ Nurse for Germ Cells That Determines Testicular Size


      Hormone Research in Paediatrics

      S. Karger AG

      Sertoli, Testis, Testicular dysgenesis syndrome, Endocrine, Paracrine

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          The somatic Sertoli cell plays an essential role in embryonic determination of male somatic sex and in spermatogenesis during adult life. One individual Sertoli cell supplies a clone of developing germ cells with nutrients and growth factors and it is well established that the number of Sertoli cells present is closely correlated to both testicular size and sperm output. Sertoli cells continue to proliferate and differentiate until the beginning of puberty, when they cease dividing and start nursing the germ cells. At this point in time, the future capacity of the testis for sperm production has thus been determined. Prior to puberty the Sertoli cells are immature and differ considerably with respect to morphology and biochemical activity from the mature cell. The several investigations that have focused on hormonal and paracrine regulation of the functions of the mature cell are reviewed here, but the mechanisms underlying the maturation and general maintenance of well-functioning Sertoli cells remain obscure. An alarming decline in male reproductive health has been observed in several Western countries during recent decades. Disturbance of Sertoli cell differentiation is thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of both a poor sperm count and testicular cancer. It is speculated that environmental agents that disrupt the estrogenic/androgenic balance in the testis may play a role in this connection.

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          Most cited references 65

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          The central role of Sertoli cells in spermatogenesis.

           M D Griswold (1998)
          Sertoli cells are the somatic cells of the testis that are essential for testis formation and spermatogenesis. Sertoli cells facilitate the progression of germ cells to spermatozoa via direct contact and by controlling the environment milieu within the seminiferous tubules. The regulation of spermatogenesis by FSH and testosterone occurs by the action of these hormones on the Sertoli cells. While the action of testosterone is necessary for spermatogenesis, the action of FSH minimally serves to promote spermatogenic output by increasing the number of Sertoli cells. Copyright 1998 Academic Press.
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            Evidence from Sertoli cell-depleted rats indicates that spermatid number in adults depends on numbers of Sertoli cells produced during perinatal development.

            To probe the relationship between the size of the Sertoli cell population, established during perinatal development, and production of germ cells in the adult testis, a Sertoli cell-depleted rat model was developed. This was accomplished by delivering an antimitotic drug, cytosine arabinoside (araC), directly to the testis of newborn pups. Initial studies of these araC-treated neonates indicated that 1) the drug is cleared rapidly from the testis; 2) it substantially reduces the level of Sertoli cell proliferation; 3) Sertoli cell division ceases at a normal time in spite of the previous drug treatment; and 4) araC itself has no residual effect on germ cell proliferation, which begins several days after the injection. Pups given araC were allowed to reach maturity, and their testes were perfuse-fixed for light microscopic morphometry. When the numbers of Sertoli cells in adult rats given araC as were compared with those in normal littermates, a 54% decrease in the size of the Sertoli cell population was detected in treated rats, now referred to as Sertoli cell-depleted. Moreover, when round spermatids were quantified and compared in normal and Sertoli cell-depleted adults, testes of the latter were found to contain 55% fewer round spermatids. Since, in the araC-treated group, the decrease in Sertoli cell population size was paralleled by a reduction in spermatid production of equal magnitude, the number of round spermatids per Sertoli cell was essentially identical in normal and Sertoli cell-depleted animals. Measurements of serum androgen-binding protein (ABP) and FSH in both groups indicated that the circulating level of ABP in Sertoli cell-depleted rats was approximately half, and the concentration of FSH approximately twice, that in normal animals. Thus, even though FSH is elevated in Sertoli cell-depleted rats, the production of ABP per Sertoli cell is unchanged. In addition, collective volume of Leydig cells and ventral prostate weights were normal in the Sertoli cell-depleted group, suggesting that Leydig cell function in these rats is normal. In summary, a Sertoli cell-depleted rat model has been produced by interfering specifically with Sertoli cell proliferation early in postnatal life, before onset of germ cell division. Moreover, our findings with this model indicate that production of normal numbers of germ cells in adults depends, at least in part, on the size of the Sertoli cell population. Thus, our observations identify the perinatal period, when the Sertoli cell population is established, as critical for development of quantitatively normal spermatogenesis in the adult.
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              Impairment of spermatogenesis in mice lacking a functional aromatase (cyp 19) gene.

              It is well established that spermatogenesis is controlled by gonadotrophins and testosterone. However, a role for estrogens in male reproduction recently was suggested in adult mice deficient in estrogen receptor alpha. These mice became infertile primarily because of an interruption of fluid reabsorption by the efferent ductules of the epididymis, thus leading to a disruption of the seminiferous epithelium [Hess, R. A., Bunick, D., Lee, K. H., Bahr, J., Taylor, J. A., Korach, K. S., and Lubahn, D. B. (1997) Nature (London) 390, 509-512]. Despite the demonstration of the aromatase enzyme, which converts androgens to estrogens, and estrogen receptors within the rodent seminiferous epithelium, the role of aromatase and estrogen in germ cell development is unknown. We have investigated spermatogenesis in mice that lack aromatase because of the targeted disruption of the cyp19 gene (ArKO). Male mice deficient in aromatase were initially fertile but developed progressive infertility, until their ability to sire pups was severely impaired. The mice deficient in aromatase developed disruptions to spermatogenesis between 4.5 months and 1 year, despite no decreases in gonadotrophins or androgens. Spermatogenesis primarily was arrested at early spermiogenic stages, as characterized by an increase in apoptosis and the appearance of multinucleated cells, and there was a significant reduction in round and elongated spermatids, but no changes in Sertoli cells and earlier germ cells. In addition, Leydig cell hyperplasia/hypertrophy was evident, presumably as a consequence of increased circulating luteinizing hormone. Our findings indicate that local expression of aromatase is essential for spermatogenesis and provide evidence for a direct action of estrogen on male germ cell development and thus fertility.

                Author and article information

                Horm Res Paediatr
                Hormone Research in Paediatrics
                S. Karger AG
                September 2006
                20 September 2006
                : 66
                : 4
                : 153-161
                Paediatric Endocrinology Unit, Department of Woman and Child Health, Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
                94142 Horm Res 2006;66:153–161
                © 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Figures: 2, Tables: 2, References: 98, Pages: 9
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