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Stem cell strategy for boosting testosterone levels tested in rodents.

GUANGZHOU, China, December 22, 2016 -- Male hypogonadism is a condition that diminishes testosterone levels in approximately 30 percent of older men, but available therapies can produce serious side effects.

In a new study researchers developed an alternative approach involving the direct conversion of adult skin cells into functional testosterone-producing cells.

When transplanted into male rodents with hypogonadism, these so-called Leydig-like cells survived and restored normal testosterone levels.

The study is the first to report a method for generating Leydig cells by means of direct cell reprogramming. This alternative source of Leydig cells will be important for basic research and provides the attractive prospect of clinical application in the field of regenerative medicine."

Male hypogonadism is characterized by symptoms such as mood disturbances, sexual dysfunction, decreased muscle mass and strength, and decreased bone mineral density.

One primary cause is the dysfunction of testosterone-producing Leydig cells in the testes. Testosterone replacement therapy can alleviate some symptoms resulting from Leydig cell failure, but it may also increase the risk of prostate and cardiovascular complications, such as the formation of blood clots.

Leydig cell transplantation could be a promising alternative to hormone replacement therapy, providing physiological patterns of hormone for a longer period of time. However, stem cell-based approaches are costly, time-consuming, and limited by ethical concerns and the risk of tumor formation.

The researchers reasoned that the direct conversion of adult skin cells into Leydig cells would be a faster, safer regenerative medicine approach.

They screened 11 transcription factors that could affect the ability of Leydig cells to produce testosterone.

Using lentiviral vectors to force the expression of three of these transcriptional factors, Dmrt1, Gata4, and Nr5a1, they were able to directly reprogram mouse skin cells into functional Leydig-like cells that showed normal gene activity and were capable of producing testosterone.

When transplanted into the testes of rats or mice with hypogonadism, these cells survived and restored normal testosterone levels.

Future studies should try to improve the efficiency of the approach to generate a pure population of cells that closely mimic adult Leydig cells.

The researchers are examining in more detail the mechanisms underlying the direct conversion of skin cells into Leydig-like cells.

To make the findings more relevant to patients, they are also examining direct cellular conversion strategies using small molecules and other non-viral methods. They hope that someday clinical trials will test a novel regenerative medicine approach to treat androgen deficiency in men.

Citation: Yan Yang et al., "Direct Reprogramming of Mouse Fibroblasts toward Leydiglike Cells by Defined Factors," Stem Cell Reports, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2016.11.010


Contact: Yadong Huang,

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Title Annotation:Preclinical Research
Publication:Stem Cell Research News
Date:Jan 16, 2017
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