12 June 2021
The aromatase–estrogen system plays a key role in gonadal sex differentiation in amphibians, reptiles, and birds during development. In adults of seasonal breeding species, aromatase activity and estrogen levels can act as an “on/off” switch for spermatogenesis and can also promote spermiogenesis.
Estrogens are important physiological regulators of testicular activity in vertebrates. Estrogen levels depend on the activity of P450 aromatase, the enzyme responsible for the irreversible conversion of testosterone into 17β-estradiol. Therefore, P450 aromatase is the key player in the aromatase–estrogen system. The present review offers a comparative overview of P450 aromatase activity in male gonads of amphibians, reptiles, and birds, with a particular emphasis on the functions of the aromatase–estrogen system in these organisms during their developmental and adult stages. The aromatase–estrogen system appears to be crucial for the sex differentiation of gonads in vertebrates. Administration of aromatase inhibitors prior to sexual differentiation of gonads results in the development of males rather than females. In adults, both aromatase and estrogen receptors are expressed in somatic cells, Leydig and Sertoli cells, as well as germ cells, with certain differences among different species. In seasonal breeding species, the aromatase–estrogen system serves as an “on/off” switch for spermatogenesis. In some amphibian and reptilian species, increased estrogen levels in post-reproductive testes are responsible for blocking spermatogenesis, whereas, in some species of birds, estrogens function synergistically with testosterone to promote spermatogenesis. Recent evidence indicates that the production of the aromatase enzyme in excessive amounts reduces the reproductive performance in avian species of commercial interest. The use of aromatase inhibitors to improve fertility has yielded suitable positive results. Therefore, it appears that the role of the aromatase–estrogen system in regulating the testicular activity differs not only among the different classes of vertebrates but also among different species within the same class.