Roe deer are seasonal breeders and show cyclic variation in testicular volume and cellular differentiation within the tubular and interstitial testis compartment. We have employed the roe deer as a model to elucidate the expression of the postpubertal Leydig cell marker INSL3 during seasonal changes in Leydig cell differentiation. Roe deer testis and serum samples were collected bimonthly throughout the complete reproductive cycle. Peak levels of testicular Insl3 mRNA and INSL3 immunoprotein were detected well before the onset of rut in April and coincided with the highest percentage of INSL3-positive cell number/square millimeter of testicular interstitial area. During the winter (December, February), roe deer INSL3 was exclusively detected in a subpopulation of alpha-actin-negative, spindle-shaped peritubular cells. Concordant with the increase in INSL3 production in April and 1 mo after the reported LH peak, a sharp increase in serum testosterone concentrations was observed. High serum testosterone concentrations coincided with the presence of detectable 17alpha-hydroxylase, mRNA and protein, in Leydig cells. Upregulation of INSL3 production in spring appeared to reflect LH-dependent differentiation of Leydig cells. The considerable changes in percentage of INSL3 immunopositive cells within the numerically constant interstitial cell population indicated cyclic seasonal de- and redifferentiation of Leydig cells. A complex functional role of the INSL3/LGR8 ligand-receptor system in the roe deer testis was suggested by the detection of specific hybridization signals for roe deer Lgr8 transcripts in Sertoli cells of the roe deer testis.
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