Biochemical and structural evidence for ethanol-induced impairment of testicular development: Apparent lack of leydig cell involvement

Robert A. Anderson, Sally H. Berryman, Jack F. Phillips, Kenneth A. Feathergill, Lourens J.D. Zaneveld, Lonnie D. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The present study was conducted to provide biochemical and morphological evidence for ethanol-induced impairment of testicular development. The specific activities of testicular postmeiotic enzyme markers-sorbitol dehydrogenase (SDH), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and α-glycerophosphate dehydrogenase (GDH)-increased with age in CFW mice from ages 23 to 60 days, providing a biochemical measure of testicular development during puberty. Chronic ethanol treatment via liquid diets from ages 20 to 55 days resulted in decreased activities of SDH and LDH at ages 40 and 44 days, and of GDH at ages 34, 40, and 44 days. These decreases were consistent with an arrest in the developmental increase in SDH, LDH, and GDH at ages 31 ± 0.6, 31 ± 2.6, and 24 ± 0.5 days, respectively. After 29 days of ethanol treatment (age 50 days), testicular weights, epididymal sperm content, and sperm motility were reduced, relative to controls, by 37, 83, and 60%, respectively (p < 0.05). Epididymal weights were unaffected. Light microscopic evaluation of testes revealed disorganization of spermatogenesis, germ cell degeneration, decreased tubular luminal diameter, and vacuolation of Sertoli cells in ethanol-treated mice at age 50 days. Electron microscopic analysis showed that germ cell degeneration was not restricted to a specific cell type. Stage IX-XI tubules were observed in which spermatids had been retained and underwent phagocytosis within the Sertoli cell. Sertoli cells showed evidence of atypical nuclear invaginations. Sertoli cells underwent degenerative changes and were sloughed into the rete testis. However, relative Leydig cell size, as well as fractional volume occupied by the nucleus, mitochondria, and endoplasmic reticulum were unaffected by ethanol. The data (1) confirm previous findings suggesting ethano-induced delayed testicular development; (2) suggest that certain aspects of testicular development are arrested relatively early in ethanol treatment (4-11 days); and (3) indicate that the Sertoli cell, rather than the Leydig cell, is the primary target with regard to the deleterious effect of chronic ethanol treatment on testicular maturation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-85
Number of pages24
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1989

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH Grant AA-06603. The authors thank Ms. Jean Arndt for assisting in the manuscript preparation.


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