Immunolocalisation of oestrogen receptor-α within the testis and excurrent ducts of the rat and marmoset monkey from perinatal life to adulthood


    The sites of action and the physiological role of oestrogens in the male reproductive tract are poorly understood. We have undertaken a systematic study of the immunoexpression of oestrogen receptor-α (ERα) in the male rat from late fetal life through to adulthood and compared the findings with results obtained in the marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus) from neonatal to adult life. The testes, rete testis, efferent ducts and epididymis were examined from normal male rats (aged 4, 8, 10, 15, 20, 25, 38, 48 and 90 days) and from male rat fetuses on days 17·5 and 18·5 of gestation; comparable tissues were examined from neonatal, infantile, peripubertal and adult marmosets aged 8, 18–24, 54–62 and 92–112 weeks respectively. Immunolocalisation of ERa used antigen retrieval and a monoclonal antibody directed to the N-terminus, which had proved superior to six other antisera tested. ERa was immunoexpressed in interstitial cells, including the fetal/neonatal generation of Leydig cells, in both the rat and marmoset. In the rat, the adult generation of Leydig cells were also immunopositive for ERa whereas the comparable cells in the marmoset were only weakly immunopositive. ERa was not expressed in Sertoli cells, peritubular myoid cells, blood vessels or germ cells at any time in either species. In late fetal life in the rat, ERa was immunoexpressed in cells surrounding the mesonephric tubules, whereas postnatally it was expressed in the epithelium of the rete testis and efferent ducts at all ages from 4 to 90 days; this immunoexpression was most pronounced in the efferent ducts. In the marmoset, the efferent ducts, but not the rete testis, also showed intense immunoexpression of ERa. Apart from sporadic immunostaining for ERa in the epididymal duct of the rat in the neonatal period, the caput, corpus and cauda epididymis were negative for immunoexpression of ERa at all ages in both species. These findings suggest that the main actions of oestrogens in the male reproductive tract, mediated by ERa, are related to the development and function of the efferent ducts and the Leydig cells. In consideration of data from this and previous studies of oestrogen binding, we predict possible sites of expression of other oestrogen receptors (e.g. ERβ) in Sertoli cells and the epididymis. Interactive effects, related to the relative levels of androgens and oestrogens, could be physiologically important in the excurrent ducts of the adult testis.

    Journal of Endocrinology (1997) 153, 485–495

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