In the present study, we explored the restoration effects of exogenous LH on Leydig cell ultrastructure and testicular steroidogenesis in rats that were deprived of endogenous LH via treatment with testosterone–17β–estradiol–filled Silastic implants for 10 days. Exogenous LH was supplied continuously via Alzet miniosmotic pumps at the rate of 1 μg/h for 3, 6, 12, and 24 h or 1, 2, 4, 8, and 12 days. Testes were then perfused in vitro with medium containing 1) LH, 2) 20α–hydroxycholesterol, or 3) pregnenolone substrate, which allowed us to assess LHstimulated testosterone secretion, cholesterol side–chain cleavage activity, or the conversion of pregnenolone to testosterone, respectively. Other testes were perfusion fixed via the testicular artery for morphometric measurement of Leydig cell number and volume per testis and the surface area of Leydig cell cytoplasmic smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), inner mitochondrial membrane, and outer mitochondrial membrane. The results verified that Leydig cell smooth endoplasmic reticulum and inner and outer mitochondrial membrane surface areas are drastically diminished (P < 0.05 vs. intact controls) by LH withdrawal. Also, the results verified that exogenous LH administered in situ restores Leydig cell ultrastructure and capacity to biosynthesize testosterone. However, the recovery of Leydig cell structure and steroidogenic reactions occurred at strikingly different rates upon restoration of LH after 10 days of the treatment with testosterone–17/8–estradiol implants. For example, the restoration of testicular capacity to synthesize progesterone in response to LH stimulation or 20α–hydroxycholesterol substrate was completed within 24 h. In contrast, the restoration of Leydig cell SER and testicular capacity to synthesize testosterone from pregnenolone was completed only after 8 days of continuous LH treatment (P > 0.05 vs. intact controls). Thus, our results show that LH rapidly restores Leydig cell post–LH receptor steroidogenic events up to and including cholesterol side–chain cleavage activity. Interestingly, there is no temporal association between the recovery of cholesterol side–chain cleavage activity and the surface area of inner mitochondrial membrane surface area. In contrast, 8 days are required to coincidentally restore SER surface area and the capacity of Leydig cells to synthesize testosterone from pregnenolone. We conclude that different cellular mechanisms are involved in the LH–dependent restoration of inner mitochondrial cholesterol side–chain cleavage activity and SER–associated conversion of pregnenolone to testosterone.
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