Phthalate inhibits Leydig cell differentiation and promotes adipocyte differentiation

Xinrui Hao, Xiaoju Guan, Xingxing Zhao, Minpeng Ji, Xin Wen, Panpan Chen, Fenfen Chen, Jianying Yang, Qingquan Lian, Leping Ye, Haolin Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies have shown that phthalates are capable of affecting the development and functions of male reproductive system. The effect of phthalates on Leydig cell functions is well documented. However, little is known about their potential effects on the functions of stem Leydig cells (SLC). In the present study, we have examined the effects of mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) on SLC functions in vitro by culturing seminiferous tubules and isolated SLCs. The results indicate that MEHP can significantly inhibit the proliferation and differentiation of SLCs in both the organ and cell culture systems. Interestingly, the minimal effective concentration that is able to affect SLC function was lower in the tubule culture system (1 μM) than in the isolated cells (10 μM), suggesting a possible involvement of the niche cells. Also, MEHP appeared to affect both the efficiency of SLCs to form Leydig cells and a selected group of Leydig cell-specific genes, including Lhcgr, Scarb1, Hsd3b1, Cyp17a1, Star, Srd5a1, Akr1c14, Insl3, Hao2 and Pah. Since SLCs are multipotent, we also tested the effect of MEHP on the differentiation of SLCs to adipocytes. Though MEHP by itself can not specify SLCs into adipocyte lineage, it indeed significantly increased the adipogenic activity of SLCs if used with an adipocyte inducing medium by up-regulation of multiple adipogenic-related genes, including Pparg and Cebpa. Overall, the results indicate that MEHP inhibits SLCs differentiating into Leydig lineage while stimulates the differentiating potential of SLCs to adipocytes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127855
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Adipocyte
  • Phthalate
  • Stem leydig cell
  • Steroidogenesis
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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