The new peptide hormone insulin-like peptide 3 (INSL3) is a member of the insulin-relaxin family, yet, unlike insulin, it signals through a new G-protein coupled receptor, LGR8, distantly related to the receptors for LH and FSH. INSL3 is produced in large amounts by the Leydig cells of the testis in both fetal and adult mammals. Using a combination of mRNA analysis by RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, ligand-binding, and/or bioactivity assays, the distribution of LGR8 expression was assessed in testicular tissues and cells and in the epididymis. There was consistent agreement that LGR8 was expressed in meiotic and particularly postmeiotic germ cells and in Leydig cells, though not in Sertoli or peritubular cells. Leydig cells appear to express only a low level of the LGR8 gene product; other transcripts may be present, representing nonfunctional products. Messenger RNA analysis suggested that LGR8 transcripts in germ cells represented mostly full-length forms. LGR8 mRNA was also expressed in the epididymis, though no function can yet be ascribed to this expression. Therefore, the INSL3/LGR8 system represents a further paracrine hormone-receptor system in the testis, which conveys information about Leydig cell status to germ cells, and possibly as part of an autocrine feedback loop.
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