Gene expression during development of fetal and adult Leydig cells

Document Type

Article (peer-reviewed)

Publication Date



In rats and mice, Leydig cells are formed as two morphologically and functionally different generations. The first generation develops in utero, from undifferentiated stem Leydig cells (SLCs) that differentiate into fetal Leydig cells (FLCs). After birth, SLCs that may differ from the fetal SLCs undergo lineage-specific commitment and give rise to adult Leydig cells (ALCs). The intermediates of ALCs first become apparent by day 11 postpartum. These first-appearing intermediates, progenitor Leydig cells (PLCs), are spindle shaped and identifiable as steroidogenic because they express luteinizing hormone receptor (LHR) and 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD). The next step in the transition of PLCs to ALCs is the appearance of the immature Leydig cells (ILCs), most commonly seen in the testis during days 28 to 56 postpartum. ILCs have a more abundant smooth endoplasm reticulum (SER), the network of membranes providing a scaffold for steroidogenic enzyme localization, compared to PLCs, but are considered immature because they secrete higher levels of 5α-reduced androgen than testosterone. ILCs undergo a final division before ALC steroidogenic function matures by postnatal day 56. ALCs mark the point of maximum differentiation, and at this stage, the Leydig cell secretes testosterone at the highest rate. In this review, trends of gene expression during development of the two Leydig-cell generations, and recent information from gene profiling by microarray, are evaluated. The expression profiles are distinct, indicating that FLCs and ALCs may originate from separate pools of stem cells.