The phenotype of the aromatase knockout mouse reveals dietary phytoestrogens impact significantly on testis function

Kirsten M. Robertson, Liza O'Donnell, Evan R. Simpson, Margaret E.E. Jones

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Estrogen is synthesized in the testis, both in Leydig cells and seminiferous epithelium, and its importance in spermatogenesis is highlighted by the phenotype of the aromatase knock-out (ArKO) mouse. These mice are unable to synthesize endogenous estrogens. The males develop postmeiotic defects by 18 wk of age. We hypothesized that maintenance of spermatogenesis in younger animals may be mediated by exogenous estrogenic substances. Dietary soy meal, contained in almost all commercial rodent diets, provides a source of estrogenic isoflavones. We thus investigated spermatogenesis in wild-type and ArKO mice raised on a diet containing soy, compared with a soy-free diet, to elucidate the biological action of phytoestrogens on the testis. In ArKO mice, dietary phytoestrogens could partially prevent disruptions to spermatogenesis, in that they prevented the decline in germ cell numbers. They also seemed to maintain Sertoli cell function, and they blocked elevations in FSH. The impairment of spermatogenesis seen in soy-free ArKOs occurred in the absence of a decreased gonadotropic stimulus, suggesting that the effects of dietary phytoestrogens are independent of changes to the pituitary-gonadal axis. Our study highlights the importance of estrogen in spermatogenesis and shows that relatively low levels of dietary phytoestrogens have a biological effect in the testis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2913-2921
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002
Externally publishedYes

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