Thyroid hormone is a major regulator of Sertoli cell development, and the present study sought to determine the role of T3 in Mullerian-inhibiting substance (MIS) messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. MIS, a Sertoli cell secretory protein that induces Mullerian duct regression and also may be critical for germ and Leydig cell development, is maximal perinatally, then decreases as Sertoli cells mature. The fall in MIS mRNA expression is delayed by hypothyroidism in vivo, indicating that T3 could regulate MIS mRNA. However, understanding of the hormonal regulation of MIS has been limited due partly to the lack of a primary Sertoli cell culture system in which sustained expression of MIS or its mRNA can be obtained. We have developed a Sertoli cell culture system for examining hormonal regulation of MIS mRNA. We then tested the effects of T3 and/or FSH treatment on MIS mRNA levels in this new system. Initial studies indicated that MIS mRNA production by 5- day-old rat Sertoli cells was minimal in vitro. Therefore, Sertoli cells from 2-day-old rats were cultured for 2 or 4 days. After 2 days in vitro, steady state MIS mRNA levels were decreased to 36% of the levels seen in freshly isolated Sertoli cells from 2-day-old rats. However, by day 4 of culture, steady state MIS mRNA production had recovered to 67% of that seen in freshly isolated 2-day-old Sertoli cells, which closely paralleled the decrease seen in MIS production in vivo from days 2-6. MIS mRNA levels were decreased 53%, 64%, and 86% in cultures treated with 0.01, 0.1, and 1.0 nM T3 (P < 0.05), respectively. This decrease in Sertoli cell MIS mRNA did not reflect a nonspecific effect on cell viability and/or activity, as shown by a dose- responsive increase in inhibin-α mRNA in these same cultures. FSH (2.5-100 ng/ml) also produced a dose-responsive decrease in MIS mRNA levels, and FSH and T3 together had an additive inhibitory effect on MIS mRNA levels, indicating that these hormones may act through distinct mechanisms. In summary, this is the first primary culture system in which sustained MIS mRNA production can be demonstrated, and it should prove useful for understanding the regulation of MIS in developing Sertoli cells. In addition, T3 and FSH are major regulators of the postnatal decrease in MIS production by the rat Sertoli cell, and these hormones may act through separate pathways.
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