In addition to playing a fundamental role in very diverse processes such as vision and the growth and differentiation of numerous types of cell, vitamin A (retinol) and its principal biologically active derivative, retinoic acid, are clearly involved in the regulation of testicular functions in rodents. An excess of vitamin A leads to testicular lesions and spermatogenetic disorders, and a deficiency induces early cessation of spermatogenesis and adversely affects testosterone secretion. Furthermore, mice mutant for retinoic acid alpha receptors and retinoid X beta receptors are sterile. Retinoids appear to exert an action on the three main testicular types of cell (Sertoli, germinal and Leydig cells), as they act on the signalling pathways and Sertoli cell metabolism, and modify numerous factors secreted in Sertoli cells. Retinoids also appear to be necessary for the proliferation and differentiation of A spermatogonia, and for spermiogenesis. In addition, vitamin A deficiency leads to atrophy of the accessory sex organs after decreased testosterone production. Recent studies have shown that retinoids already affect these three types of cell in fetuses. Curiously, the effects of retinoids on fetal and adult testis seem opposed.
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