For four generations rats were fed a low selenium diet (2–7 μg Se kg−1) or the same diet with 250 or 300 μg Se kg−1 added as selenite. In male rats of the first generation that had been fed the diets from the age of 20 days onwards, selenium depletion led to slightly delayed testis growth during pubertal development that was compensated for in the later stages of maturation. In adult rats fed the low selenium diet for nearly a year no changes in testicular mass and morphology were observed. The serum concentration of testosterone of 6-month-old, selenium-depleted animals was, however, slightly lower than that of adequately supplied controls, and the stimulation of testosterone secretion by administration of GnRH or LH resulted in a significantly less marked rise in the serum concentration of testosterone. From the second generation onwards the testis mass, expressed as a percentage of the body mass, decreased and in the fourth generation was less than 50% of that of the controls. The male gonads of fourth generation animals showed a severe bilateral atrophy, in which the seminiferous tubules were considerably reduced in diameter and almost entirely lined by Sertoli cells and a few stem cells. Differentiated spermatozoa could not be detected. The alterations were reversible and spermatogenesis was restored by feeding the selenium-adequate diet. The findings indicate that testicular morphology and functions are affected by severe selenium deficiency and that the element is necessary for testosterone biosynthesis and the formation and normal development of spermatozoa.
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