We have previously shown that retinoic acid (RA) is able to act on the development of Leydig, Sertoli, and germ cells in the testis in culture (Livera et al., Biol Reprod 2000; 62:1303–1314). To identify which receptors mediate these effects, we have now added selective agonists and antagonists of retinoic acid receptors (RARs) or retinoid X receptors (RXRs) in the same organotypic culture system. The RAR α agonist mimicked most of the effects of RA on the cultured fetal or neonatal testis, whereas the RAR β, γ, and pan RXR agonists did not. The RAR α agonist decreased the testosterone production, the number of gonocytes, and the cAMP response to FSH of fetal testis explanted at 14.5 days postconception (dpc). The RAR α agonist disorganized the cords of the 14.5-dpc cultured testis and increased the cord diameter in cultured 3-days-postpartum (dpp) testis in the same way as RA. All these RA effects could be reversed by an RAR α antagonist and were unchanged by an RAR β/γ antagonist. The RAR β agonist, however, increased Sertoli cell proliferation in the 3-dpp testis in the same way as RA, and this effect was blocked by an RAR β antagonist. The RAR γ and the pan RXR agonists had no selective effect. These results suggest that all the effects of RA on development of the fetal and neonatal testis are mediated via RAR α, except for its effect on Sertoli cell proliferation, which involves RAR β.
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