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Event Title

Testosterone synthesis in Leydig cells, Reduction

Key Event Overview

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AOPs Including This Key Event

AOP Name Event Type Essentiality
PPARα activation leading to impaired fertility in adult male rodents KE Moderate
PPARα activation in utero leading to impaired fertility in males KE Moderate

Taxonomic Applicability

Name Scientific Name Evidence Links
rat Rattus sp. Strong NCBI
human Homo sapiens Strong NCBI
mice Mus musculus Weak NCBI

Level of Biological Organization

Biological Organization

How this Key Event works

Biological state

Testosterone is a steroid hormone from the androgen group and is found in humans and other vertebrates.

Biological compartments

In humans and other mammals, testosterone is secreted primarily by the testicles of males and, to a lesser extent, the ovaries of females and other steroidogenic tissues (e.g., brain, adipose). It either acts locally /or is transported to other tissues via blood circulation. Testosterone synthesis takes place within the mitochondria of Leydig cells, the testosterone-producing cells of the testis. It is produced upon stimulation of these cells by Luteinizing hormone (LH) that is secreted in pulses into the peripheral circulation by the pituitary gland in response to Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus. Testosterone and its aromatized product, estradiol, feed back to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to suppress transiently LH and thus testosterone production. In response to reduced testosterone levels, GnRH and LH are produced. This negative feedback cycle results in pulsatile secretion of LH followed by pulsatile production of testosterone (Ellis, Desjardins, and Fraser 1983), (Chandrashekar and Bartke 1998).

General role in biology

Testosterone is the principal male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. Male sexual differentiation depends on testosterone (T), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and the expression of androgen receptors by target cells (Manson and Carr 2003). During the development secretion of androgens by Leydig cells is essential for masculinization of the foetus (Nef 2000). The foetal Leydig cells develop in utero. These cells become competent to produce testosterone in rat by gestational day (GD) 15.5, with increasing production thereafter. Peak steroidogenic activity is reached just prior to birth, on GD19 (Chen, Ge, and Zirkin 2009). Testosterone secreted by foetal Leydig cells is required for the differentiation of the male urogenital system late in gestation (Huhtaniemi and Pelliniemi 1992). Foetal Leydig cells also play a role in the scrotal descent of the testis through their synthesis of insulin-like growth factor 3 (Insl3), for review see (Nef 2000).

In humans, the first morphological sign of testicular differentiation is the formation of testicular cords, which can be seen between 6 and 7 weeks of gestation. Steroid-secreting Leydig cells can be seen in the testis at 8 weeks of gestation. At this period, the concentration of androgens in the testicular tissue and blood starts to rise, peaking at 14-16 weeks of gestation. This increase comes with an increase in the number of Leydig cells for review see (Rouiller-Fabre et al. 2009).

Adult Leydig cells, which are distinct from the foetal Leydig cells, form during puberty and supply the testosterone required for the onset of spermatogenesis, among other functions. Distinct stages of adult Leydig cell development have been identified and characterized. The stem Leydig cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of indefinite self-renewal but also of differentiation to steroidogenic cells. These cells give rise to progenitor Leydig cells, which proliferate, continue to differentiate, and give rise to the immature Leydig cells. Immature Leydig cells synthesize high levels of testosterone metabolites and develop into terminally differentiated adult Leydig cells, which produce high levels of testosterone. With aging, both serum and testicular testosterone concentrations progressively decline, for review see (Nef 2000).

Androgens play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of male reproductive and sexual functions. Low levels of circulating androgens can cause disturbances in male sexual development, resulting in congenital abnormalities of the male reproductive tract. Later in life, this may cause reduced fertility, sexual dysfunction, decreased muscle formation and bone mineralisation, disturbances of fat metabolism, and cognitive dysfunction. Testosterone levels decrease as a process of ageing: signs and symptoms caused by this decline can be considered a normal part of ageing.

How it is Measured or Detected

OECD TG 456 [1] is the validated test guideline for an in vitro screen for chemical effects on steroidogenesis, specifically the production of 17ß-estradiol (E2) and testosterone (T). The testosterone syntheis can be measured in vitro cultured Leydig cells. The methods for culturing Leydig cells can be found in the Database Service on Alternative Methods to animal experimentation (DB-ALM): Leydig Cell-enriched Cultures [2], Testicular Organ and Tissue Culture Systems [3].

Testosterone synthesis in vitro cultured cells can be measured indirectly by testosterone radioimmunoassay or analytical methods such as LC-MS.

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability

Key enzymes needed for testosterone production first appear in the common ancestor of amphioxus and vertebrates (Baker 2011). Consequently, this key event is applicable to most vertebrates, including humans.


Chandrashekar, V, and A Bartke. 1998. “The Role of Growth Hormone in the Control of Gonadotropin Secretion in Adult Male Rats.” Endocrinology 139 (3) (March): 1067–74. doi:10.1210/endo.139.3.5816.

Ellis, G B, C Desjardins, and H M Fraser. 1983. “Control of Pulsatile LH Release in Male Rats.” Neuroendocrinology 37 (3) (September): 177–83. Huhtaniemi, I, and L J Pelliniemi. 1992. “Fetal Leydig Cells: Cellular Origin, Morphology, Life Span, and Special Functional Features.” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (New York, N.Y.) 201 (2) (November): 125–40.

Manson, Jeanne M, and Michael C Carr. 2003. “Molecular Epidemiology of Hypospadias: Review of Genetic and Environmental Risk Factors.” Birth Defects Research. Part A, Clinical and Molecular Teratology 67 (10) (October): 825–36. doi:10.1002/bdra.10084.

Nef, S. 2000. “Hormones in Male Sexual Development.” Genes & Development 14 (24) (December 15): 3075–3086. doi:10.1101/gad.843800.

Rouiller-Fabre, Virginie, Vincent Muczynski, Romain Lambrot, Charlotte Lécureuil, Hervé Coffigny, Catherine Pairault, Delphine Moison, et al. 2009. “Ontogenesis of Testicular Function in Humans.” Folia Histochemica et Cytobiologica / Polish Academy of Sciences, Polish Histochemical and Cytochemical Society 47 (5) (January): S19–24. doi:10.2478/v10042-009-0065-4.