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Summary

The localization of cytochrome P450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage (P450scc), 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) and aromatase (P450arom) was investigated using polyclonal antibodies during gonad development in wild European eels, Anguilla anguilla (L.), from the River Po Delta (Ferrara, Italy). The first steroidogenic cells, observed in undifferentiated gonads of 14–16 cm yellow eels, showed no P450scc, 3β-HSD or P450arom activity, but positive regions appeared in head kidney insulae from this stage until the silver eel stage. In undifferentiated gonads of 16–20 cm yellow eels the steroidogenic cells were positive to all enzymes. Pre-Leydig steroidogenic cells, identified in Syrski organs of yellow eels of 22–26 cm evolving into testes, were positive to 3β-HSD and P450scc, but negative to P450arom. However, steroidogenic cells in Syrski organs evolving towards ovaries and in small but fully differentiated ovaries were positive to all enzymes. Immature testes of yellow and silver eels had Leydig cells positive to P450scc and 3β-HSD; the same reactions were also observed in some Sertoli cells of silver eel testes containing meiotic cells. Sex differentiation in A. anguilla apparently occurs through an initial female stage controlled by P450arom activity. Leydig and Sertoli cells appear involved in different steps of hormonal control of spermatogenesis: Leydig cells begin their steroidogenic activity before meiosis, while Sertoli cells begin their activity during meiosis.