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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000 May;85(5):2057-67.

Estradiol acts as a germ cell survival factor in the human testis in vitro.

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  • 1Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Helsinki, Finland.


The necessity of estrogens for male fertility was recently discovered in studies on both estrogen receptor alpha knockout and aromatase (cyp 19 gene) knockout mice. However, direct testicular effects of estrogens in male reproduction have remained unclear. Here we studied the protein expression of ERalpha and the recently described estrogen receptor beta in the human seminiferous epithelium and evaluated the role of 17beta-estradiol, the main physiological estrogen, in male germ cell survival. Interestingly, both estrogen receptors alpha and beta were found in early meiotic spermatocytes and elongating spermatids of the human testis. Furthermore, low concentrations of 17beta-estradiol (10(-9) and 10(-10) mol/L) effectively inhibited male germ cell apoptosis, which was induced in vitro by incubating segments of human seminiferous tubules without survival factors (i.e. serum and hormones). Dihydrotestosterone, which, in addition to estradiol, is an end metabolite of testosterone, was also capable of inhibiting testicular apoptosis, but at a far higher concentration (10(-7) mol/L) than estradiol. Thus, estradiol appears to be a potent germ cell survival factor in the human testis. The novel findings of the present study together with the previously reported indirect effects of estrogens on male germ cells indicate the importance of estrogens for the normal function of the testis.

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