Developmental changes in the expression of 18 Leydig cell-specific mRNA species were measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction to partially characterize the developmental phenotype of the cells in the mouse and to identify markers of adult Leydig cell differentiation. Testicular interstitial webs were isolated from mice between birth and adulthood. Five developmental patterns of gene expression were observed. Group 1 contained mRNA species encoding P450 side chain cleavage (P450scc), P450c17, relaxin-like factor (RLF), glutathione S-transferase 5-5 (GST5-5), StAR protein, LH receptor, and epoxide hydrolase (EH); group 2 contained 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) VI, 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD) III, vascular cell adhesion molecule 1, estrogen sulfotransferase, and prostaglandin D (PGD)-synthetase; group 3 contained patched and thrombospondin 2 (TSP2); group 4 contained 5α-reductase 1 and 3α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase; group 5 contained sulfonylurea receptor 2 and 3β-HSD I. Group 1 contained genes that were expressed in fetal and adult Leydig cells and which increased in expression around puberty toward a maximum in the adult. Group 2 contained genes expressed only in the adult Leydig cell population. Group 3 contained genes with predominant fetal/neonatal expression in the interstitial tissue. Group 4 contained genes with a peak of expression around puberty, whereas genes in group 5 show little developmental change in expression. Highest mRNA levels in descending order were RLF, P450c17, EH, 17β-HSD III, PGD-synthetase, GST5-5, and P450scc. Results identify five genes expressed in the mouse adult Leydig cell population, but not in the fetal population, and one gene (TSP2) that may be expressed only in the fetal Leydig cell population. The developmental pattern of gene expression suggests that three distinct phases of adult Leydig cell differentiation occur.
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