Effects of pharmacologically induced Leydig cell testosterone production on intratesticular testosterone and spermatogenesis

Jin Yong Chung, Sean Brown, Haolin Chen, June Liu, Vassilios Papadopoulos, Barry Zirkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Leydig cells of the mammalian testis produce testosterone (T) in response to luteinizing hormone (LH). In rats and men with reduced serum T levels, T replacement therapy (TRT) will raise T levels, but typically with suppressive effects on sperm formation. The rate-determining step in T formation is the translocation of cholesterol to the inner mitochondrial membrane, mediated by protein-protein interactions of cytosolic and outer mitochondrial membrane proteins. Among the involved proteins is cholesterol-binding translocator protein (TSPO) (18 kDa TSPO). We hypothesized that in contrast to TRT, the administration of the TSPO agonist N,N-dihexyl-2-(4-fluorophenyl)indole-3-acetamide (FGIN-1-27), by stimulating the ability of the Leydig cells to produce T, would result in the elevation of serum T levels while maintaining intratesticular T concentration and therefore without suppression of spermatogenesis. Age-related reductions in both serum and intratesticular T levels were seen in old Brown Norway rats. Both exogenous T and FGIN-1-27 increased serum T levels. With exogenous T, serum LH and Leydig cell T formation were suppressed, and intratesticular T was reduced to below the concentration required to maintain spermatogenesis quantitatively. In contrast, FGIN-1-27 stimulated Leydig cell T formation, resulting in increased serum T without reductions in intratesticular T concentrations or in testicular sperm numbers. FGIN-1-27 also significantly increased serum and intratesticular T levels in rats made LH-deficient by treatment with the gonadotropin-releasing hormone antagonist cetrorelix. These results point to a possible approach to increasing serum T without negative effects on spermatogenesis, based upon stimulating T production by the Leydig cells themselves rather than administering T exogenously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-498
Number of pages10
JournalBiology of reproduction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 14 2020


  • Leydig cells
  • TSPO
  • spermatogenesis
  • testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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