To study the regulation of fetal testicular steroidogenesis in the rat, we examined effects of members of the natriuretic peptide family, that is, atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), and C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP), on testosterone production of dispersed Leydig cells of rat fetuses at Embryonic Day (E) 18.5. All three peptides stimulated testosterone production, with significant effect at concentrations ≥1 × 10−8 mol/L of ANP, ≥1 × 10−9 mol/L of BNP, and ≥1 × 10−6 mol/L of CNP. Likewise, receptors for all three peptides (i.e., NPR-A, NPR-B, and NPR-C) were expressed in the fetal testis as early as E15.5. The natriuretic peptides had no effect on cAMP production by fetal Leydig cells. When tested in combination with two other peptides previously shown to stimulate fetal testicular steroidogenesis, vasoactive intestinal peptide and pituitary adenylate cyclase-stimulating polypeptide (PACAP-27), the combined effects did not differ significantly from the maximum effect with any one of the peptides alone. In conclusion, our present findings provide both functional and molecular evidences for NPR-A, NPR-B, and NPR-C in the fetal testis. Because ANP has previously been detected in fetal plasma and we now demonstrate the expression of BNP and CNP in fetal testes, these findings indicate involvement of the natriuretic peptides in endocrine and paracrine regulation during the early phase of fetal testicular steroidogenesis at E15.5–19.5 (i.e., before the onset of pituitary LH secretion).
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