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J Anat. 2008 Jan;212(1):55-66. Epub 2007 Dec 5.

The functional development of Leydig cells in a marsupial.

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Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Leydig cells are the major source of androgen in the male mammal. We describe here for the first time the development of the Leydig cell in a macropodid marsupial, the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii. Leydig cells are first recognized morphologically 2 days after birth with the appearance of lipid droplets in the cytoplasm of certain interstitial cells. Lipid content closely matches the steroid content of the developing testis and marks the maturation of the steroid synthesis pathway in the tammar testis. Morphologically mature Leydig cells, marked by distinct mitochondria with tubular cristae and an extensive anastomosing network of smooth endoplasmic reticulum, are developed by day 10 after birth - the time of peak testosterone content in perinatal tammar testes. The volume percentage of each cell type in the testis does not change over time so the growth of each cellular component keeps pace with growth of the whole testis. There was no morphological or quantitative evidence of a change from one population of Leydig cells to another in the tammar testis as has been reported in several other species including the rat, mouse and human. Maturation of the testis is also marked by the development of tight junctions between the cell membranes of adjacent Sertoli cells. These appear around day 30 after birth and coincide with the onset of mitotic arrest in male germ cells. Overall, the development of the Leydig cell in the tammar wallaby follows a similar pattern to that seen in other mammals, although the start of Leydig cell differentiation is, like many other organ systems in marsupials, post natal, not fetal and there appears to be only a single population of Leydig cells.

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