The objective of this study was to determine whether postnatal increases in rat Leydig cell number result from differentiation of precursor cells, division of existing Leydig cells, or both. Our approach was 1) to examine changes in the absolute number of Leydig cells and potential precursor cells (macrophages, pericytes, and mesenchymal, endothelial, and myoid cells) per testis on day 19 of gestation (day-2) and days 7, 14, 21, 28, and 56 postpartum; 2) to examine the frequency with which mesenchymal and Leydig cells divide during prenatal and postnatal development; and 3) to identify and examine the fate of the progeny of Leydig and mesenchymal cell divisions during prenatal and postnatal development. Stereological methods were used to show that mesenchymal cells comprised 44% of the total interstitial cell population and Leydig cells 16% on day â€ 2, whereas by day 56 postpartum the relationship had reversed; mesenchymal cells comprised 3% and Leydig cells 49%. These results suggested a precursor-product relationship between mesenchymal and Leydig cells because no such reciprocal relationship was observed between Leydig cells and macrophages, pericytes, endothelial, or myoid cells. Autoradiographic analysis of [3H]thymidine incorporation into mesenchymal and Leydig cells was consistent with this interpretation. In a series of pulse-chase experiments, the percentage of labeled mesenchymal and Leydig cells was measured after a single injection of [3H]thymidine on days 2, 14, 28, and 56 postpartum, each followed by sampling at timed intervals (between 1 h and 14 days) thereafter. Starting on day 14, the percentage of labeled Leydig cells was approximately 1% immediately after injection of [3H]thymidine and increased significantly to approximately 6% by 6 days after injection. No such increase was observed when rats were similarly injected starting on days 2, 28, and 56 postpartum. The rise in Leydig cell labeling between days 14 and 28 postpartum did not result in a decline in the number of silver grains over labeled Leydig cell nuclei, indicating that the increase in the percentage of labeled cells was not caused by Leydig cell division. These observations led us to conclude that the increase in Leydig cell labeling from days 14 to 28 was the result of recruitment from a compartment of labeled mesenchymal cells. In contrast, our analysis indicated that from day 28 postpartum and thereafter until the mature number of Leydig cells is attained, Leydig cells are generated by division of morphologically recognizable Leydig cells.
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