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Possible involvement of the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) and selected NR3C1 gene variants in regulation of human testicular function

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Perceived stress has been associated with decreased semen quality but the mechanisms have not been elucidated. It is not known whether cortisol, the major stress hormone in humans, can act directly via receptors in the testis, and whether variants in the gene encoding the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) can possibly modulate the effect. To address these questions, we investigated the expression of the glucocorticoid receptor in human testicular tissue, including adult and fetal samples (n = 20) by immunohistochemical staining, and in silico analysis of publicly available datasets. In the adult testis NR3C1 protein was detected in peritubular cells, a subset of Leydig cells, Sertoli cells (weak), and spermatogonia, but not in spermatids. The NR3C1 expression pattern in fetal testis samples differed by a notably stronger reaction in Sertoli cells, lack of staining in gonocytes but the presence in a subset of pro-spermatogonia, and the almost absent reaction in nascent peritubular cells. In parallel, we explored the association between adult testicular function and three single nucleotide NR3C1 polymorphisms (BcII [rs41423247], 9β [rs6198], and Tth111I [rs10052957]) affecting glucocorticoid sensitivity. Testicular function was determined by semen analysis and reproductive hormone profiling in 893 men from the general population. The NR3C1 SNP BclI was associated with semen quality in an over-dominant manner with heterozygotes having better semen parameters compared to both homozygote constellations, and with sperm motility showing the strongest association. This association was supported by a higher inhibin B and inhibin B/FSH ratio, as well as a lower FSH in BclI heterozygotes. The SNPs 9β and Tth111I were not associated with semen parameters. Although the clinical impact of the findings is limited, the results substantiate a suggested link between stress and testicular function. Hence this investigation should be regarded as a discovery study generating hypotheses for future studies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAndrology
Volume5
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1105-1114
Number of pages10
ISSN2047-2919
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

    Research areas

  • Journal Article

ID: 51996985