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Keywords:

  • androgens;
  • oestrogens;
  • penis;
  • rat;
  • animal models;
  • toxicology

Summary

We previously reported that oestrogen exposure in neonatal rats induced permanent infertility and malformed penis characterized by fat accumulation, which replaced most of the smooth muscle cells and cavernous spaces in the body of the penis, structures essential for erection. The objective of this study was to determine if reduced androgen production/action in the neonatal period, in the absence of exogenous oestrogen exposure, induces penile deformities similar to those caused by oestrogen. Male rats were treated from postnatal days 1–6 with GnRH antagonist antide (A, 10 mg/kg) or androgen receptor (AR) antagonist flutamide (F, 50 mg/kg) or F + A, with or without AR agonist dihydrotestosterone (DHT, 20 mg/kg). For comparison, pups received diethylstilbestrol (DES, 0.1 mg/kg), with or without DHT. Tissues were collected at ages 7 and 12 days and at adulthood. Flutamide alone decreased penile length and weight significantly (p < 0.05), but it caused neither fat accumulation, nor affected fertility (80% vs. 87% in controls). Antide alone reduced penile length and weight significantly, and induced fat accumulation in 4/11 rats and infertility in 13/14 rats. Conversely, all 11 F + A-treated rats, similar to all nine DES-treated rats, had fat accumulation and loss of smooth muscle cells and cavernous spaces in the body of the penis and were infertile. In addition, reductions in penile length and weight were higher than in rats treated with F or A alone. DHT co-administration mitigated penile deformities in the DES group, but did not in the F + A group. Testicular testosterone was reduced by 70–95% at 7 or 12 days of age in all treated groups, except in the F group, which had threefold higher testosterone than controls. Collectively, data unequivocally show that reduced androgen production/action in the neonatal period, in the absence of oestrogen exposure, induces permanent infertility and malformed penis similar to that caused by oestrogen.