The capacity of Brown Norway rat Leydig cells to produce testosterone has been shown to decrease with aging. Our objectives herein were to determine 1) whether ethane dimethanesulfonate (EDS) administration would eliminate the hypofunctional Leydig cells of the aged Brown Norway rat testis; 2) if so, whether a new generation of Leydig cells subsequently would appear; and 3) if so, whether the steroidogenic capacity of the new Leydig cells would be at the relatively low level of the cells they replaced or at the high level of young adult Leydig cells. Young (3-month-old) and aged (18- month-old) rats received an injection of EDS (8.5 mg/100 g BW). One, 5, and 10 weeks thereafter, the serum testosterone concentration and the capacity of the testes and of isolated Leydig cells to produce testosterone were determined. One week after EDS treatment, Leydig cells were not seen in the testes of young or aged rats, and the serum testosterone concentration and testicular testosterone production were reduced to undetectable levels. Five weeks after EDS treatment, serum testosterone levels at both ages were restored to those in age-matched controls, and the capacity of the testes to produce testosterone was restored partially (young rats) or completely (aged rats). By 10 weeks after EDS treatment, the serum testosterone concentration in young rats and the ability of their testes to produce testosterone were at the levels of age-matched controls. In aged rats, however, serum testosterone and testicular testosterone production were at levels that significantly exceeded those of aged-matched controls and, indeed, were not significantly different from those of young control or EDS-treated rats. Consistent with this, the ability of Leydig cells isolated from the testes of young rats and that of cells from aged rats to produce testosterone 10 weeks after the rats were treated with EDS were equivalent. The enhanced ability of the Leydig cells restored to the aged testes to produce testosterone was not a consequence of exposure to increased levels of LH. Thus, although situated in an aged testis and in the environment of an aged hypothalamic-pituitary axis, the steroidogenic function of the Leydig cells restored to aged rat testes was equivalent to that of young rat Leydig cells.
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