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Biol Reprod. 2011 Dec;85(6):1161-6. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.111.091850. Epub 2011 Aug 10.

Stem Leydig cell differentiation: gene expression during development of the adult rat population of Leydig cells.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


Leydig cells are the testosterone-producing cells in the adult male. Adult Leydig cells (ALCs) develop from stem Leydig cells (SLCs) through at least two intermediate cells, progenitor Leydig cells (PLCs) and immature Leydig cells (ILCs). Microarray gene expression was used to identify the transcriptional changes that occur with the differentiation of SLCs to PLCs and, thus, with the entry of SLCs into the Leydig cell lineage; to comprehensively examine differentiation through the development of ALCs; and to relate the pattern of gene expression in SLCs to that in a well-established stem cell, bone marrow stem cells (BSCs). We show that the pattern of gene expression by SLCs was more similar to the expression by BSCs, an established stem cell outside the male reproductive tract, than to any of the cells in the Leydig cell developmental lineage. These results indicated that the SLCs have many of the molecular characteristics of other stem cells. Pathway analysis indicated that development of Leydig cells from SLCs to PLCs was associated with decreased expression of genes related to adhesion and increased expression of genes related to steroidogenesis. Gene expression changes between PLCs and ILCs and between ILCs and ALCs were relatively minimal, suggesting that these cells are highly similar. In contrast, gene expression changes between SLCs and ALCs were quite distinct.

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