Ethane dimethanesulphonate (EDS) is cytotoxic to Leydig cells in the adult rat. To investigate the role and regulation of apoptosis in the Leydig cell, EDS (100 mg/kg i.p.) was administered to adult male rats and the testes examined 6, 12, 18, 24, 48 and 72 h later. Numbers of Leydig cells, identified by 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase inmunohistochemistry started to fall by 12 h after EDS injection and were almost undetectable by 72 h. Apoptotic cells in the interstitium, visualised by in situ end labelling of DNA, increased in number to reach a maximum 24 h after injection of EDS, and were undetectable by 72 h. In many tissues the apoptosis-related gene products act in cohort: Bcl-2 and Bcl-x1 promoting survival of a cell, whilst Bax promotes cell death often positively regulated by the tumour-suppressor gene p53. Western blot analysis showed that: (1) Bcl-2 and p53 were absent from interstitial Leydig cells but were expressed in the seminiferous tubules. (2) Bax protein although expressed in the interstitium was not present in the Leydig cells. (3) Bcl-xl in Leydig cells was transiently increased after EDS. In conclusion, EDS kills Leydig cells by apoptosis; however the control of Leydig cell death does not involve p53 or the Bcl-2 family members but may require other gene products yet to be identified.
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