American black bears, Ursus americanus, are seasonal breeders with a mating season in late spring to early summer. The objectives of this study were to determine whether there are seasonal changes in spermatogenesis and immunolocalization of testicular steroidogenic enzymes, and to correlate these changes with peripheral steroid concentrations. Three captive mature bears were maintained in open cages during the summer season and provided with chambers for denning during the winter. Testicular biopsies and blood samples were obtained from anaesthetized bears on 12 March, 15 June, 12 October and 15 January. Steroidogenic enzymes were immunolocalized using polyclonal antisera raised against bovine adrenal cholesterol side-chain cleavage cytochrome P450 (P450scc), human placental 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD), porcine testicular 17α-hydroxylase cytochrome P450 (P450c17) and human placental aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450arom). Spermatogenesis changed seasonally: spermatogonia and degenerating spermatocytes were observed in October; spermatogonia and primary spermatocytes were present in January; spermatogonia, spermatocytes and round spermatids were present in March; and spermatogonia through spermatozoa were present in June. P450scc and P450c17 were immunolocalized in spermatids and Leydig cells in June, whereas in October these enzymes were present only in Leydig cells. 3βHSD was localized in Leydig cells in June and October with more intense staining in June. Localization of P450arom changed seasonally: no immunostaining in October; positive immunostaining in Sertoli cells in January; more extensive immunostaining in Sertoli cells, peritubular-myoid cells and round spermatids in March; and strong immunostaining in Sertoli cells and round and elongating spermatids in June. Serum testosterone and oestradiol concentrations changed seasonally: testosterone and oestrogen were low in October and January, slightly higher in March, and high in June. The present study demonstrates that in the black bear seasonal changes in spermatogenesis are accompanied by changes in the immunolocalization of testicular steroidogenic enzymes that are correlated with changes in serum testosterone and oestradiol concentrations. The presence of P450arom in Sertoli cells at the beginning of testicular recrudescence suggests that aromatase and oestrogen may play a role in re-initiating spermatogenesis.
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