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APMIS. 2003 Jan;111(1):174-81; discussion 182-3.

Genetic engineering to study testicular tumorigenesis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


In humans, Sertoli cell tumors account for approximately 4% of all testicular tumors, and 20% of these are malignant. The mechanisms underlying Sertoli cell tumorigenesis remain largely unknown. Using gene knockout technology, we previously generated mutant mice lacking the alpha subunit of inhibin dimers. The inhibin alpha-null male mice develop testicular Sertoli cell tumors with 100% penetrance. These tumors develop as early as 4 weeks of age and cause a cachexia-like wasting syndrome. Castrated inhibin alpha knockout mice develop sex steroidogenic adrenal cortical tumors. These studies have identified inhibins as secreted tumor suppressors with specificity for the gonads and adrenal glands. It had been suggested that endocrine factors play roles in Sertoli cell tumorigenesis by altering cell cycle machinery of the Sertoli cells. To test the potential of these factors to function as modifiers of Sertoli cell tumorigenesis, we have employed a genetic intercross strategy, breeding inhibin a mutant mice with mutant mice deficient in endocrine signaling factors including gonadotropin releasing hormone (hypogonadal, hpg mice), follicle stimulating hormone, anti-Miillerian hormone (AMH), activin receptor type II, or androgen receptor (testicular feminization, tfm mice), or mice overexpressing follistatin. We are also investigating the effects of loss of critical cell cycle regulators, such as cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p27, on Sertoli cell tumorigenesis in inhibin alpha knockout males. These studies clearly demonstrate the roles of these factors as modifiers of the Sertoli cell tumorigenesis. Activin signaling through activin receptor type II is responsible for the cachexia-like syndrome observed in the inhibin a knockout mice with tumors. The gonadotropin hormones are essential for testicular tumor development, but elevated FSH levels are not sufficient to cause Sertoli cell tumors. Absence of FSH, lack of androgen receptor, or overexpression of follistatin slows the tumor growth and minimizes the cachexia symptoms, thus prolonging the life span of these double mutant mice. In contrast, absence of AMH or p27 causes earlier onset and more aggressive development of testicular tumor, with an earlier death of double mutant mice. We are currently investigating roles of estrogen signaling pathways, and other cell cycle regulators, in tumor development in the inhibin alpha knockout mice by generating mice with double or triple mutations. Genetic engineering in mouse models provides a powerful tool to study the mechanisms of testicular tumorigenesis and define the important genetic modifiers in vivo.

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