Activin A Determines Steroid Levels and Composition in the Fetal Testis

Penny A.F. Whiley, Liza O'Donnell, Sarah C. Moody, David J. Handelsman, Julia C. Young, Elizabeth A. Richards, Kristian Almstrup, Patrick S. Western, Kate L. Loveland

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Activin A promotes fetal mouse testis development, including driving Sertoli cell proliferation and cord morphogenesis, but its mechanisms of action are undefined. We performed ribonucleic acid sequencing (RNA-seq) on testicular somatic cells from fetal activin A-deficient mice (Inhba KO) and wildtype littermates at embryonic day (E) E13.5 and E15.5. Analysis of whole gonads provided validation, and cultures with a pathway inhibitor discerned acute from chronic effects of altered activin A bioactivity. Activin A deficiency predominantly affects the Sertoli cell transcriptome. New candidate targets include Minar1, Sel1l3, Vnn1, Sfrp4, Masp1, Nell1, Tthy1 and Prss12. Importantly, the testosterone (T) biosynthetic enzymes present in fetal Sertoli cells, Hsd17b1 and Hsd17b3, were identified as activin-responsive. Activin-deficient testes contained elevated androstenedione (A4), displayed an Inhba gene dose-dependent A4/T ratio, and contained 11-keto androgens. The remarkable accumulation of lipid droplets in both Sertoli and germ cells at E15.5 indicated impaired lipid metabolism in the absence of activin A. This demonstrated for the first time that activin A acts on Sertoli cells to determine local steroid production during fetal testis development. These outcomes reveal how compounds that perturb fetal steroidogenesis can function through cell-specific mechanisms and can indicate how altered activin levels in utero may impact testis development.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbqaa058
Number of pages16
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • 11-ketotestosterone
  • Hsd17b1
  • Hsd17b3
  • spermatogenesis
  • steroidogenesis

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