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The foetal Leydig cell – differentiation, function and regulation


P.J. O'Shaughnessy, Institute of Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow Veterinary School, Bearsden Rd, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK. E-mail: P.O'


The foetal Leydig cell population arises shortly after testicular differentiation at around 12.5 dpc in the mouse and 6 weeks in the human. These cells function, primarily, to produce androgens which are essential for masculinization of the foetus. The origin of the foetal Leydig cells remains uncertain but it has been suggested that adrenocortical cells and foetal Leydig cells may share a common origin in an adreno-genital primordium. Studies in the mouse are beginning to identify factors such as desert hedgehog and platelet-derived growth factor which are required for foetal Leydig cell development. Regulation of foetal Leydig cell function remains uncertain in most species. Unlike the adult population of Leydig cells, the foetal Leydig cells in the mouse do not require luteinizing hormone (LH) to stimulate androgen production. An intact pituitary does appear to be required, however, and adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) will stimulate foetal Leydig cell function directly suggesting that both LH and ACTH act to maintain Leydig cell function in vivo. In the human LH/hCG is required for foetal Leydig cell function although the cells may also be sensitive to ACTH.