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      Perspective: A Neuro-Hormonal Systems Approach to Understanding the Complexity of Cryptorchidism Susceptibility

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          Nonsyndromic cryptorchidism is a common multifactorial, condition with long-term risks of subfertility and testicular cancer. Revealing the causes of cryptorchidism will likely improve prediction and prevention of adverse outcomes. Herein we provide our current perspective of cryptorchidism complexity in a synthesis of cumulative clinical and translational data generated by ourselves and others. From our recent comparison of genome-wide association study (GWAS) data of cryptorchidism with or without testicular germ cell tumor, we identified RBFOX family genes as candidate susceptibility loci. Notably, RBFOX proteins regulate production of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a sensory neuropeptide linked to testicular descent in animal models. We also re-analyzed existing fetal testis transcriptome data from a rat model of inherited cryptorchidism (the LE/orl strain) for enrichment of Leydig cell progenitor genes. The majority are coordinately downregulated, consistent with known reduced testicular testosterone levels in the LE/orl fetus, and similarly suppressed in the gubernaculum. Using qRT-PCR, we found dysregulation of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) sensory transcripts ipsilateral to undescended testes. These data suggest that LE/orl cryptorchidism is associated with altered signaling in possibly related cell types in the testis and gubernaculum as well as DRG. Complementary rat and human studies thus lead us to propose a multi-level, integrated neuro-hormonal model of testicular descent. Variants in genes encoding RBFOX family proteins and/or their transcriptional targets combined with environmental exposures may disrupt this complex pathway to enhance cryptorchidism susceptibility. We believe that a systems approach is necessary to provide further insight into the causes and consequences of cryptorchidism.

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          Most cited references 62

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          Targeted disruption of the Insl3 gene causes bilateral cryptorchidism.

          The sexual dimorphic position of the gonads in mammals is dependent on differential development of two ligaments, the cranial suspensory ligament (CSL) and the gubernaculum. During male embryogenesis, outgrowth of the gubernaculum and regression of the CSL result in transabdominal descent of the testes, whereas in the female, development of the CSL in conjunction with failure of the gubernaculum development holds the ovaries in a position lateral to the kidneys. Several lines of evidence suggest that regression of the CSL and induction of gubernaculum development are mediated by testosterone and a yet unidentified testicular factor, respectively. The Insl3 gene (originally designated Ley I-L), a member of the insulin-like superfamily, is specifically expressed in Leydig cells of the fetal and postnatal testis and in theca cells of the postnatal ovary. Here we show that male mice homozygous for a targeted deletion of the Insl3 locus exhibit bilateral cryptorchidism with free moving testes and genital ducts. These malformations are due to failure of gubernaculum development during embryogenesis. In double-mutant male mice for Insl3 and androgen receptor genes, testes are positioned adjacent to the kidneys and steadied in the abdomen by the CSL. These findings demonstrate, that the Insl3 induces gubernaculum development in an androgen-independent way, while androgen-mediated regression of the CSL occurs independently from Insl3.
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            Fetal programming of adult Leydig cell function by androgenic effects on stem/progenitor cells.

            Fetal growth plays a role in programming of adult cardiometabolic disorders, which in men, are associated with lowered testosterone levels. Fetal growth and fetal androgen exposure can also predetermine testosterone levels in men, although how is unknown, because the adult Leydig cells (ALCs) that produce testosterone do not differentiate until puberty. To explain this conundrum, we hypothesized that stem cells for ALCs must be present in the fetal testis and might be susceptible to programming by fetal androgen exposure during masculinization. To address this hypothesis, we used ALC ablation/regeneration to identify that, in rats, ALCs derive from stem/progenitor cells that express chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factor II. These stem cells are abundant in the fetal testis of humans and rodents, and lineage tracing in mice shows that they develop into ALCs. The stem cells also express androgen receptors (ARs). Reduction in fetal androgen action through AR KO in mice or dibutyl phthalate (DBP) -induced reduction in intratesticular testosterone in rats reduced ALC stem cell number by ∼40% at birth to adulthood and induced compensated ALC failure (low/normal testosterone and elevated luteinizing hormone). In DBP-exposed males, this failure was probably explained by reduced testicular steroidogenic acute regulatory protein expression, which is associated with increased histone methylation (H3K27me3) in the proximal promoter. Accordingly, ALCs and ALC stem cells immunoexpressed increased H3K27me3, a change that was also evident in ALC stem cells in fetal testes. These studies highlight how a key component of male reproductive development can fundamentally reprogram adult hormone production (through an epigenetic change), which might affect lifetime disease risk.
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              Do phthalates affect steroidogenesis by the human fetal testis? Exposure of human fetal testis xenografts to di-n-butyl phthalate.

              Phthalates are ubiquitous environmental chemicals. Fetal exposure to certain phthalates [e.g. di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)] causes masculinization disorders in rats, raising concern for similar effects in humans. We investigated whether DBP exposure impairs steroidogenesis by the human fetal testis. The aim of the study was to determine effects of DBP exposure on testosterone production by normally growing human fetal testis xenografts. Human fetal testes (14-20 wk gestation; n=12) were xenografted into castrate male nude mice that were treated for 4-21 d with vehicle, or 500 mg/kg·d DBP, or monobutyl phthalate (active metabolite of DBP); all mice were treated with human chorionic gonadotropin to mimic normal human pregnancy. Rat fetal testis xenografts were exposed for 4 d to DBP as a positive control. Testosterone production was assessed by measuring host serum testosterone and seminal vesicle (SV) weights at termination, plus testis gene expression (rats). Human fetal testis xenografts showed similar survival (∼80%) and total graft weight (8.6 vs. 10.1 mg) in vehicle and DBP-exposed hosts, respectively. Serum testosterone (0.56 vs. 0.64 ng/ml; P>0.05) and SV weight (67.2 vs. 81.9 mg; P>0.05) also did not differ. Exposure to monobutyl phthalate gave similar results. In contrast, exposure of rat fetal xenografts to DBP significantly reduced SV weight and testis Cyp11a1/StAR mRNA expression and lowered testosterone levels, confirming that DBP exposure can inhibit steroidogenesis in xenografts, further validating the negative findings on testosterone production in the human. Exposure of human fetal testes to DBP is unlikely to impair testosterone production as it does in rats. This has important safety and regulatory implications.

                Author and article information

                Front Endocrinol (Lausanne)
                Front Endocrinol (Lausanne)
                Front. Endocrinol.
                Frontiers in Endocrinology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                23 July 2018
                : 9
                1Nemours Biomedical Research, Division of Urology, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children , Wilmington, DE, United States
                2School of Biosciences and School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham , Sutton Bonington, United Kingdom
                Author notes

                Edited by: Katja Teerds, Wageningen University, Netherlands

                Reviewed by: Ewa Rajpert-De Meyts, Rigshospitalet, Denmark; Alberto Ferlin, University of Brescia, Italy

                *Correspondence: Julia S. Barthold Julia.Barthold@ 123456nemours.org

                This article was submitted to Reproduction, a section of the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology

                Copyright © 2018 Barthold and Ivell.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 2, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 62, Pages: 7, Words: 4935
                Funded by: National Institute of General Medical Sciences 10.13039/100000057
                Award ID: P30GM114736
                Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 10.13039/100009633
                Award ID: R01HD060769
                Funded by: Nemours Foundation 10.13039/100012465


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