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JS Suominen, Y Wang, A Kaipia and J Toppari

OBJECTIVE: Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) has been shown to inhibit germ cell death in human seminiferous epithelium. In the present study, we wanted to explore the effects of TNF-alpha in the rat seminiferous epithelium and to study molecular mechanisms of germ cell apoptosis. Furthermore, the effects of infliximab were studied. Infliximab is a TNF-alpha antagonist used in autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. METHODS: Rat seminiferous tubule segments were cultured in the presence and absence of TNF-alpha, infliximab and SN50, a NF-kappa B inhibitor. TUNEL-staining and cleaved caspase-3 immunohistochemistry combined with squash preparations of rat seminiferous tubule segments were used to evaluate the number of apoptotic cells. Western blot analyses were performed on cultured seminiferous tubule segments for Bcl-2 family proteins (Bax, Bad, Bcl-w, Bcl-xL) and fas ligand. RESULTS: TNF-alpha promotes cell survival in the rat seminiferous epithelium, and this prosurvival effect can be blocked by infliximab, a TNF-alpha antagonist. Bcl-xL was found to be upregulated in mitochondrial membranes by TNF-alpha, and this upregulation was inhibited by infliximab. Inhibition of NF-kappa B translocation to the nucleus prevented the prosurvival effect of TNF-alpha on seminiferous epithelium. CONCLUSIONS: The present study demonstrates that TNF-alpha promotes cell survival in the rat seminiferous epithelium, and this effect can be blocked by infliximab. This is the first study to show the effects of infliximab in the testis. The prosurvival effect of TNF-alpha might be at least partly mediated by modulating the expression and subcellular localization of Bcl-2 family proteins.

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KM Main, IM Schmidt, J Toppari and NE Skakkebaek

BACKGROUND: Patients with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism may be diagnosed shortly after birth because of micropenis and cryptorchidism, combined with subnormal LH and FSH concentrations during the postnatal period. OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether treating these patients with gonadotropins postnatally, to mimic the physiological development, would improve testicular growth and fertility potential later in life. DESIGN: Our patient presented with micropenis. Serum hormone concentrations were measured monthly after delivery: LH and testosterone were undetectable, and FSH and inhibin B were below the normal range (0.05-0.17 IU/l and 79-112 pg/ml respectively). METHODS: From 7.9 to 13.7 months of age, the patient was treated with recombinant human LH and FSH in doses of 20 and 21.3 IU s.c. twice weekly respectively. RESULTS: During treatment concentrations of LH, FSH, inhibin B and estradiol increased to values within normal limits (0.7-1.88 IU/l, 0.17-3.24 IU/l, 121-268 pg/ml and 40-55 pmol/l respectively), whereas serum testosterone remained undetectable. Penile length increased from 1.6 to 2.4 cm and testicular volume, assessed by ultrasound, increased by 170%. No significant adverse events were observed. CONCLUSIONS: Gonadotropin treatment in an infant with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism succeeded in inducing an increase in inhibin B and testicular growth.

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JS Suominen, W Yan, J Toppari and A Kaipia

OBJECTIVE: To study the role of Bcl-2-related ovarian killer (Bok) in the regulation of apoptosis in the testis of developing and adult rat. METHODS: Bok mRNA expression was analyzed by Northern hybridization before and after culturing rat seminiferous tubules in vitro. Seminiferous tubules were cultured with different hormones and growth factors. Changes in the expression level of Bok mRNA during testicular development was analyzed by Northern hybridization. Localization of Bok mRNA was verified by in situ hybridization. RESULTS: Bok mRNA was highly expressed in the rat testis, varying during development. Highest expression levels were found in immature rats. Highest hybridization intensity appeared to be in spermatogonia, pachytene spermatocytes and Sertoli cells. Treatment with FSH was able to inhibit spontaneous increase of Bok mRNA expression that occurred in the defined stages of the rat seminiferous epithelium. CONCLUSIONS: FSH protects germ cells from apoptosis and this protective effect may at least partly be due to the inhibition of Bok gene expression. The amount of apoptosis varies during testicular development and highest expression of Bok mRNA occurs at the time of apoptosis, suggesting a possible role for Bok in its regulation.

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A Perheentupa, J Mäkinen, T Laatikainen, M Vierula, N E Skakkebaek, A-M Andersson and J Toppari

Objective

To investigate whether a population-level decline in serum testosterone exists in Finnish men. In comparison with other European populations, Finnish men have compared well in the studies of reproductive health (i.e. semen quality, incidence of cryptorchidism and testicular cancer); thus, we expected no significant cohort-dependent decrease in serum testosterone.

Methods

We analysed serum levels of testosterone, gonadotrophin and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in 3271 men representing different ages (25–74 years) and birth cohorts within three large Finnish population surveys conducted in 1972, 1977 and 2002.

Results

Serum testosterone levels decreased (from 25.3 nmol/l in 25- to 29-year-old men gradually to 16.9 nmol/l in 70- to 74-year-old men), whereas SHBG and gonadotrophin levels increased with increasing age. In addition, a significant secular trend in testosterone (total and free), SHBG and gonadotrophin levels was observed with lower levels in more recently born age-matched men. Serum testosterone level decreased in men aged 60–69 years from 21.9 nmol/l (men born 1913–1922) to 13.8 nmol/l (men born 1942–1951). These decreases remained significant following adjustment for BMI. An age-independent birth cohort effect existed on reproductive hormones measured in the Finnish men. In concert with the lower free testosterone levels, we observed lower gonadotrophin levels, suggesting that while there may be detrimental changes at the gonad level, the hypothalamus–pituitary–axis is not responding appropriately to this change.

Conclusions

The more recently born Finnish men have lower testosterone levels than their earlier born peers. This study offers no explanation for this substantial recent adverse development.

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Kimmo K. Vihko, Jorma Toppari, Olli Saksela, Jyrki J. O. Suominen and Martti Parvinen

Abstract. In the seminiferous epithelium, Sertoli cells secrete plasminogen activator (PA) under regulation of follicle stimulating hormone, cyclic AMP and neighbouring spermatogenic cells. Recent observations suggest that preleptotene spermatocytes upon their release from the basement membrane of the seminiferous tubule are important regulators of PA secretion. To study further the role of PA's in the seminiferous tubules, we have analyzed the endogenous levels and secretion rates of PA at various ages during postnatal development, and performed biochemical analyses of the types of PA in the testis and spent media from seminiferous tubular cultures. Cyclic secretion of PA started at the age of 28 days, and from 40 days onwards, the high secretion rates were localized in stages VII and VIII of the cycle of the seminiferous epithelium. The secreted PA is most obviously of the urokinase type; both urokinase-type and tissue-type PA-like activities were found in seminiferous tubular homogenates. The increase in testicular PA levels concomitant to the onset of meiosis in the epithelium was due to the urokinasetype PA-like activity.

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I Ketola, M Anttonen, T Vaskivuo, JS Tapanainen, J Toppari and M Heikinheimo

OBJECTIVE: The transcription factors GATA-1 and GATA-4 have been implicated in the regulation of testicular development and function. Their cofactors FOG-1 and FOG-2 are expressed in the gonads, but their cell-specific and developmental expression in the testis remains unresolved. Therefore, we analyzed GATA-1, GATA-4, FOG-1 and FOG-2 expression in detail, from undifferentiated male urogenital ridge to adult testis. METHODS: Immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization were applied on mouse testicular samples. RESULTS: GATA-4 and FOG-2, but not GATA-1 or FOG-1, were expressed as early as in the male urogenital ridge. FOG-2 expression was localized in the Sertoli cells at embryonal day 12.5 (E12.5), but it diminished with advancing fetal testicular development. In E17.5 testis, FOG-2 was present only in the testicular capsule and a subset of fetal Leydig cells. FOG-1 was expressed from E15.5 Sertoli cells onwards, whereas GATA-1 was not detected during the fetal period at all. In the postnatal testis, FOG-2 was abundantly expressed immediately after birth, but in adult testis its expression was predominantly restricted to stage VII-XII seminiferous tubules. Stage specificity was also found for FOG-1, which, similarly to GATA-1, was abundantly expressed in stage VII-XII tubules during adulthood. CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that FOG-2, in addition to GATA-4, has a role in early gonadal development and sexual differentiation, and FOG-1 at later fetal stages, while GATA-1 executes its action postnatally. The findings suggest that, in contrast to the hematopoietic system and the heart, GATA-1 and GATA-4 do not use FOG-1 and FOG-2 respectively as their only cofactors during the early stages of testicular development.

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TK Jensen, M Vierula, NH Hjollund, M Saaranen, T Scheike, S Saarikoski, J Suominen, A Keiski, J Toppari and NE Skakkebaek

OBJECTIVE: To assess differences in semen quality between similar populations from Denmark and Finland. DESIGN: Comparison of semen quality between 221 Finnish men (of whom 115 had no proven fertility) and 411 Danish men with no proven fertility in two follow-up studies among normal couples trying to conceive. METHODS: In Finland male partners of couples without experienced infertility attempting to conceive were recruited through advertisements in local newspapers from 1984 to 1986. From 1992 to 1995 Danish men who lived with a partner and who had not attempted to achieve a pregnancy previously were recruited through their union when they discontinued birth control. All semen analyses were performed in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines. RESULTS: Median sperm concentration, total sperm count and the percentage of morphologically normal spermatozoa were significantly higher among the Finnish men without proven fertility (104.0 million/ml, 304.0 million and 58% respectively) compared with the Danish men (53.0 million/ml, 140.8 million, and 41% respectively). Sperm concentration was 105.7% (95% confidence interval (CI) 58.1%-167.6%) and total sperm count was 127.4% (95% CI 71.4%-201.6%) higher among Finnish men without proven fertility than among Danish men after control for confounders. CONCLUSIONS: Some, but hardly all, of the observed difference in semen quality may be explained by differences in recruitment procedures, selection of the men and by methodological differences in semen analysis between the two countries. Also a birth cohort effect may explain some of the differences between countries as the Finnish men were recruited 11 years before the Danish men. Therefore, follow-up studies with identical recruitment and selection of men from the two countries are needed.