The aim of this study was to investigate the role of estrogens in Leydig cell tumor proliferation. We used R2C rat Leydig tumor cells and testicular samples from Fischer rats with a developed Leydig tumor. Both experimental models express high levels of aromatase and estrogen receptor α (ERα). Treatment with exogenous 17β-estradiol (E2) induced proliferation of R2C cells and up-regulation of cell cycle regulators cyclin D1 and cyclin E, the expression of which was blocked by addition of antiestrogens. These observations led us to hypothesize an E2/ERα-dependent mechanism for Leydig cell tumor proliferation. In determining the molecular mechanism responsible for aromatase overexpression, we found that total and phosphorylated levels of transcription factors cyclic AMP-responsive element binding protein and steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) were higher in tumor samples. Moreover, we found that tumor Leydig cells produce high levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), which increased aromatase mRNA, protein, and activity as a consequence of increased total and phosphorylated SF-1 levels. Specific inhibitors of IGF-I receptor, protein kinase C, and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase determined a reduction in SF-1 expression and in IGF-I-dependent SF-1 recruitment to the aromatase PII promoter. The same inhibitors also inhibited aromatase expression and activity and, consequently, R2C cell proliferation. We can conclude that one of the molecular mechanisms determining Leydig cell tumorigenesis is an excessive estrogen production that stimulates a short autocrine loop determining cell proliferation. In addition, cell-produced IGF-I amplifies estrogen signaling through an SF-1-dependent up-regulation of aromatase expression. The identification of this molecular mechanism will be helpful in defining new therapeutic approaches for Leydig cell tumors.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research