Steroidogenic enzymes, their products and sex steroid receptors during testis development and spermatogenesis in the domestic cat (Felis catus).
In the present study we comprehensively characterize intratesticular sex steroid production, metabolism and receptors in the domestic cat to elucidate the role of testosterone, estradiol and progesterone in testis development, steroid synthesis and spermatogenesis. There is a great demand for new concepts of fertility control in domestic (feral) cats and wild felids. The acquired knowledge will help to understand the regulation of spermatogenesis in felids, and may reveal new target points for male contraception. Progesterone and androgens are produced throughout all stages of testicular development; their synthesizing enzymes are mainly expressed in Leydig cells, and to a much lesser extent also in tubular cells. Aromatase (CYP19A1), the estrogen synthesizing enzyme, is only present in the tubuli and is first detectable in spermatocytes and round spermatids at puberty. As shown by elevated expression of the enzymes steroid 5-α-reductase type 1 (SRD5A) and aldo-keto-reductase family 1 member C3 (AKR1C3), the capacity to metabolize particular steroids increases during testis development. Apparently, this refers to a decreasing intra-testicular testosterone concentration per mg tissue with increasing testis weight during postpuberty. The increasing potential of sulfation of E2 by estrogen sulfotransferase (SULT1E1) with ongoing development might be responsible for the low level of unconjugated intratesticular estradiol in all stages of development probably due to facilitated excretion of conjugated estrogens. For the first time, expression of the progesterone membrane receptor components 1 and 2 (PGRMC1, PGRMC2) was studied in mammalian testis tissue. Both of these and also the progesterone receptor (PGR) are expressed depending on the developmental stage and cell type, suggesting an important regulatory role of progesterone in the testis. Androgen receptor (AR) is present in almost all cell types except for some spermatogenic cells. The co-localization of aromatase with estrogen receptor alpha (ESR1) in spermatocytes and round spermatids of domestic cat testis indicates an auto-/paracrine function of estrogen in spermatogenesis. In summary, the testis of the domestic cat is an important source of sex steroids. All of them could act within the testis but additionally, at least androgens and estrogens are likely secreted by the testis, partly as conjugated steroids.