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Steroids. 1999 Jan-Feb;64(1-2):168-75.

Identification of functional binding sites for progesterone in rat Leydig cell plasma membrane.

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Clinica Medica III, University of Padova, Italy.


Steroid hormones influence cell functions by binding to intracellular receptors and then acting within the nucleus. There is now evidence that steroids affect cell functions also via interaction with plasma membrane receptors in a number of different cell types. In this regard, progesterone appears to be one of the most active steroids. In this paper, we evaluate the effects of progesterone on rat Leydig cell functions, determining variations of ion homeostasis and testosterone production. This steroid was able to effect a depolarization of the plasma membrane that was due to an influx of sodium (Na+) from the external medium since it was absent when extracellular Na+ was iso-osmotically substituted with choline chloride or sucrose. The determination of intracellular sodium concentration ([Na+]i) with the Na+ -sensitive fluorescent dye sodium-benzofuran-isophtalate (SBFI) confirmed these observations. Progesterone did not modify Leydig cell intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) at any dose tested. Furthermore, using a cell impermeant progesterone conjugate, we demonstrated that progesterone was able to stimulate Leydig cell steroidogenesis in a dose-dependent manner. The exclusion of calcium (Ca2+) from the extracellular medium did not modify the depolarizing action of progesterone and its steroidogenetic effect while in Na+ -free medium (sucrose supplemented) progesterone-stimulated effects were completely blunted. Finally, using fluorescence microscopy with a fluorescein isothiocyanate-coupled cell impermeant progesterone conjugate, we identified plasma membrane binding sites for progesterone in rat Leydig cells. These results suggest that rat Leydig cells possess progesterone receptors located on the plasma membrane, which when occupied achieves a plasma membrane depolarization, dependent on an influx of Na+ from the external medium, and the subsequent activation of steroidogenesis.

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