Spermatogenesis and its endocrine regulation

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Three major phases compose spermatogenesis: mitotic proliferation of spermatogonia, meiosis of spermatocytes, and spermiogenesis, the restructuring of spermatids into flagellated spermatozoa. The process is fuelled by stem cells that, when dividing, either self-renew or produce spermatogonia that are committed to proliferation, meiosis, and spermiogenesis. During all phases, germ cells are in close contact with and require the structural and functional support of Sertoli cells. In contrast to germ cells, these somatic cells express receptors for sex steroids and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), the most important hormones that regulate spermatogenesis. A typical Sertoli cell response to an endocrine stimulus would be to change the release of a growth factor that would then mediate the hormone's effect to the germ cells. Recent studies in the Japanese eel have shown, for example, that in the absence of gonadotropin Sertoli cells produce a growth factor (an orthologue of anti-Müllerian hormone) that restricts stem cell divisions to the self-renewal pathway; also estrogens stimulate stem cell renewal divisions but not spermatogonial proliferation. Gonadotropin or 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) stimulation, however, induces spermatogonial proliferation, which is in part mimicked by another Sertoli cell-derived growth factor (activin B). Since FSH (besides luteinizing hormone, LH) stimulates steroidogenesis in fish, and since FSH is the only gonadotropin detected in the plasma of sexually immature salmonids, increased FSH signalling may be sufficient to initiate spermatogenesis by activating both Sertoli cell functions and 11-KT production. Another important androgen is testosterone (T), which seems to act via feedback mechanisms that can compromise FSH-dependent signalling or steroidogenesis. The testicular production of T and 11-KT therefore needs to be balanced adequately. Further research is required to elucidate in what way(s) 11-KT stimulates later stages of development, such as entry into meiosis and spermiogenesis. At this period, LH becomes increasingly important for the regulation of androgen production. Results from mammalian models suggest that during the later phases, the control of germ cell apoptosis via Sertoli cell factors is an important regulatory mechanism. In many species, sperm cells cannot fertilize eggs until having passed a maturation process known as capacitation, which includes the acquisition of motility. Progestins that are produced under the influence of LH appear to play an important role in this context, which involves the control of the composition of the seminal plasma (e.g., pH values).

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Schulz, R.W., Miura, T. Spermatogenesis and its endocrine regulation. Fish Physiology and Biochemistry 26, 43–56 (2002) doi:10.1023/A:1023303427191

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  • Androgen
  • Germ Cell
  • Androgen Receptor
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sertoli Cell