The nuclear receptor steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) is essential for mature mouse gonad steroidogenic gene expression, for Leydig and Sertoli cell function, and depletion of SF-1 in steroidogenic cells of the testis compromises steroidogenesis, spermatogenesis and male fertility.
Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1 or NR5A1) plays an essential role in the development of fetal gonads and regulates genes involved in steroid biosynthesis. Since SF-1 is expressed in multiple cell types in mouse gonads, we developed three novel conditional knockout (cKO) mouse models employing Cre-recombinase and floxed alleles of SF-1 (Nr5a1f/f) to identify its role in testes and ovaries of mature mice: Cytochrome P450 17α-hydroxylase (Cyp17Cre/+;Nr5a1f/f, Leydig and theca cell-specific), aromatase (Cyp19Cre/+;Nr5a1f/f, Sertoli and granulosa cell-specific), as well as a combination of both (Cyp17+Cyp19-Cre;Nr5a1f/f). Compared to control animals, Cyp19-Cre;Nr5a1f/f cKO males showed normal fertility and testicular function. The Cyp17Cre/+;Nr5a1f/f cKO males had smaller testis, with drastically reduced Leydig cell volumes and impaired steroidogenesis, though their reproductive performance remained comparable to controls. Some 50% of Cyp17Cre/++Cyp19Cre/+;Nr5a1f/f double-cKO (dKO) males were infertile, while the remaining 50% showed significantly reduced fertility. These dKO males also had smaller testis with degenerative seminiferous tubules, abnormal Leydig cell morphology and lower levels of intra-testicular testosterone. Abnormal Sertoli cell localization was noted in dKO testes, with increased Sox9, p27 and inhibin subunit ßb and decreased androgen receptor expression. Female mice from all genotypes showed normal reproductive capacity, though steroidogenic gene expression levels were significantly decreased in both Cyp17Cre/+;Nr5a1f/f cKO and dKO females. These results show the essential role of SF-1 in mature mouse gonad steroidogenic gene expression, for Leydig and Sertoli cell function, and that depletion SF-1 in all steroidogenic cells of the testis compromises steroidogenesis, spermatogenesis and male fertility.