The role of the maturation-inducing steroid, 17,20β-dihydroxypregn-4-en-3-one, in male fishes: a review


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The major progestin in teleosts is not progesterone, as in tetrapods, but 17,20β-dihydroxypregn-4-en-3-one (17,20β-P) or, in certain species, 17,20β,21-trihydroxy-pregn-4-en-3-one (17,20β,21-P). Several functions for 17,20β-P and 17,20β,21-P have been proposed (and in some cases proved). These include induction of oocyte final maturation and spermiation (milt production), enhancement of sperm motility (by alteration of the pH and fluidity of the seminal fluid) and acting as a pheromone in male cyprinids. Another important function, initiation of meiosis (the first step in both spermatogenesis and oogenesis), has only very recently been proposed. This is a process that takes place at puberty in all fishes and once a year in repeat spawners. The present review critically examines the evidence to support the proposed functions of 17,20β-P in males, including listing of the evidence for the presence of 17,20β-P in the blood plasma of male fishes and discussion of why, in many species, it appears to be absent (or present at low and, in some cases, unvarying concentrations); consideration of the evidence, obtained mainly from in vitro studies, for this steroid being predominantly produced by the testis, for its production being under the control of luteinizing hormone (gonadotrophin II) and, at least in salmonids, for two cell types (Leydig cells and sperm cells) being involved in its synthesis; discussion of the factors involved in the regulation of the switch from androgen to 17,20β-P production that seems to occur in many species just at the time of spermiation; discussion of the effects of in vivo injection and application of 17,20β-P (and closely related compounds) in males; a listing of previously published evidence that supports the proposed new function of 17,20β-P as an initiator of meiosis; finally, discussion of the evidence for environmental endocrine disruption by progestins in fishes.