The development of rat Leydig cell progenitors in vitro: how essential is luteinising hormone?

K.J. Teerds, E. Rijntjes, M.B. Veldhuizen-Tsoerkan, F.F.G. Rommerts, M. de Boer-Brouwer

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Luteinising hormone(LH) appears to be important for the establishment of the adult-type Leydig cell population. The role of LH in the initial steps of stem Leydig cell/precursor cell differentiation is less clear. The aim of the present study was to elucidate the role of LH in the differentiation of spindle-shaped mesenchymal-like cells into Leydig cell progenitors. Interstitial cells were isolated from rat testes at three different ages reflecting different phases in development, and cultured in the presence of increasing concentrations of LH (ranging from 0.01 to 10 ng/ml). Cells were isolated from 10-day-old rats when stem Leydig cells/precursor cells are abundant; 13-day-old rats when the first 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3 beta-HSD)-positive Leydig cell progenitors have developed in the strain of rats used in this study; and 18-day-old rats just prior to the wave of progenitor proliferation. Immunohistochemistry revealed that before stem Leydig cells differentiate into progenitor cells, they acquire functional LH receptors and become precursor cells. This was confirmed by an in vivo immunohistochemical double-labelling experiment. Addition of LH to the cultures increased the percentage of LH/3 beta-HSD-labelled Leydig cell progenitors, while the percentage of cells solely expressing the LH receptor decreased. Cell proliferation was negligible, suggesting that the increase in 3 beta-HSD-positive cells is the result of precursor cell differentiation. When interstitial cells were isolated from 13-day-old rats and to a lesser extent from 10-day old rats, a small proportion of the precursors could develop into progenitor cells independent of the presence of LH. In conclusion: before Leydig stem cells differentiate into 3 beta-HSD-positive progenitor cells, they acquire LH receptors and become precursor cells. LH appears to be essential, even at very low doses for the differentiation of these precursor cells into 3 beta-HSD-positive progenitors, although a subpopulation of precursor cells can develop into progenitors independently of LH.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-593
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • follicle-stimulating-hormone
  • ethylene dimethane sulfonate
  • human chorionic-gonadotropin
  • postnatal-development
  • testicular development
  • androgen biosynthesis
  • interstitial-cells
  • gene-expression
  • sertoli cells
  • knockout mice


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