Molecular and cellular endocrinology vol:71 issue:3 pages:239-51
The hypothesis has been advanced that Sertoli cells produce one or more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)-dependent paracrine factors which stimulate Leydig cell maturation and steroidogenesis. In an attempt to identify these factors we studied the effect of coculture with Sertoli cells on the steroidogenic capacity of immature Leydig cells. It is demonstrated that coculture, during a period of 6 days, markedly increases the capacity of the Leydig cells to secrete C21-steroids (progesterone, 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone, 20 alpha-hydroxypregn-4-en-3-one) and C19-steroids (testosterone, androst-4-ene-3,17-dione) in response to stimulation with luteinizing hormone (LH). Pretreatment of the cocultures on days 4, 5 and 6 with low concentrations of gonadotropins further enhances the steroidogenic response to LH. This pretreatment results in an overall increase in steroid output. At low concentrations of Sertoli cells and when short incubation times are used, pretreatment with FSH is clearly more effective than pretreatment with LH. Pretreatment with gonadotropins also results in a disproportionate increase in C19 output caused by increased conversion of C21 precursors into C19-steroids. This effect is also observed in Leydig cell monocultures and is mainly due to LH action on Leydig cells. Finally pretreated cocultures display a selective increase in testosterone output. The latter effect is caused by FSH-dependent conversion of androstenedione into testosterone in Sertoli cells. Pretreated cocultures can be maintained for at least 28 days. During this entire period their basal steroid output increases. Using a two-chamber culture system it is demonstrated that direct cell-cell interactions are not required to observe the stimulatory effects of coculture. One or more diffusible factors are involved and continuous contact with these factors is required to maintain the effect. Immunoneutralization experiments using an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) antiserum show that IGF-I is an important permissive factor to maintain steroidogenesis in isolated Leydig cells and in cocultures. Under none of the conditions studied, however, does the antiserum neutralize the stimulatory effect of coculture. It is concluded that the stimulatory effects of coculture on the testosterone output of Leydig cells are complex and that important diffusible mediators still remain to be identified.