Testicular heat exposure enhances the suppression of spermatogenesis by testosterone in rats: the "two-hit" approach to male contraceptive development

Endocrinology. 2000 Apr;141(4):1414-24. doi: 10.1210/endo.141.4.7416.


The objectives of the study were to determine stage-specific changes in the kinetics of germ cell apoptosis induced by administration of exogenous testosterone (T) alone and to examine whether addition of a single testicular heat exposure would enhance the induction of germ cell apoptosis and the suppression of spermatogenesis by T. Adult male rats were implanted with 3-cm SILASTIC brand capsules (Dow Corning Corp.) containing T for up to 6 weeks. Intratesticular T levels declined to 2.9% of control values by 1 week and remained suppressed at 2, 3, and 6 weeks after T administration. The incidence of germ cell apoptosis (expressed as numbers per 100 Sertoli cells) was low in control rats (0-9.52). After T treatment, the mean incidence of apoptosis at stages VII-VIII increased significantly by 1 week (21.43 +/-3.33) and showed further increases by 6 weeks (56.30 +/- 7.47); apoptotic rates remained low at early (I-VI) and later (XII-XIV) stages. To test whether the combination of T with a single testicular heat exposure resulted in more complete suppression of spermatogenesis than either treatment alone, four groups of adult rats received one of the following treatments: 1) a subdermal empty polydimethylsilozane implant, 2) exposure to a single testicular heating (43 C for 15 min) applied on day 14, 3) 3-cm T implant, or 4) 3-cm T implant and a single testicular heat exposure (applied on day 14). All animals were killed at the end of 6 weeks. In the heat-treated group, testis weight and testicular sperm counts were decreased to 65.4% and 28.9% of control levels, respectively. The corresponding values in the T-treated group were 49.7% and 24.9% of control levels, respectively. Notably, addition of heat to T further reduced testis weight to 31.1% of control levels and testicular sperm counts to near zero. Histomorphometric analysis showed that all treatments reduced seminiferous tubular diameter and epithelial and luminal volume, with the greatest decrease after combined T and heat treatment. Heat exposure in animals bearing T implants markedly reduced the number of pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids through apoptosis, resulting in tubules devoid of mature spermatids. Spermatogonia and preleptotene spermatocytes remained unaffected. These results clearly demonstrate that 1) exogenous T reduces intratesticular T and induces apoptosis mainly at stages VII-VIII within 1-6 weeks; 2) the combined treatment of T and heat markedly inhibits spermatogenesis, resulting in near azoospermia within 6 weeks; and 3) meiosis and spermiogenesis are the most vulnerable phases of spermatogenesis in response to T plus heat treatment. These findings suggest that a combination of hormonal treatment such as T and a physical agent (heat exposure) is more effective in suppressing spermatogenesis than either treatment alone. We hypothesize that combination of two antispermatogenic agents ("two hit") working at separate stages of the spermatogenic cycle will lead to greater male contraceptive efficacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Count
  • Contraceptive Agents, Male
  • Drug Industry
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spermatogenesis / drug effects*
  • Spermatozoa / cytology
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / physiology
  • Testis / anatomy & histology
  • Testis / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Testosterone / pharmacology*


  • Contraceptive Agents, Male
  • Testosterone
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone