A Sertoli cell-specific connexin43 knockout leads to altered interstitial connexin expression and increased Leydig cell numbers
Connexin43 (Cx43) is the most abundantly expressed member of the connexin (gap junction protein) family and the only one so far identified in mouse Leydig cell gap junctions. Mice lacking Cx43 were used to investigate its role in testicular androgen production and regulation. Testes from term fetuses were grafted under the kidney capsules of castrated adult males. After 3 weeks, serum from host mice was analyzed for androgens. In order to test their response to stimulation, the grafted testes were incubated in vitro with varying concentrations of LH and their androgen end products analyzed. Incubation with radiolabeled progesterone was followed by high performance liquid chromatography to quantify the androgen-intermediate metabolites. Radiolabeled testosterone in the presence of NADPH was used to determine the activity of testosterone-metabolizing enzymes 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17betaHSD), 5alpha-reductase (5alphaR), and 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3alpha HSD). Serum androgen levels did not differ between hosts carrying wild-type versus null mutant grafts although Cx43-deficient testes had more 17betaHSD and 5alphaR activity than wild-type controls. Furthermore, the genotype of grafted testes did not influence LH-stimulated androgen production in vitro. These results indicate that the steroidogenic function of Leydig cells is not compromised by the absence of Cx43, perhaps because other gap junction proteins are present. Dye transfer experiments demonstrated that Cx43-deficient Leydig cells retain intercellular coupling, indicating that Cx43 is not the only protein contributing to their gap junctions. Thus, despite their prominence in Leydig cells, Cx43 gap junctions are not essential for androgen production.