Infancy is not a quiescent period of testicular development

Int J Androl. 2001 Feb;24(1):2-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2605.2001.00260.x.


Postnatal evolution of the testis in most laboratory animals is characterized by the close continuity between neonatal activation and pubertal development. In higher primates, infancy, a long period of variable duration, separates birth from the beginning of puberty. This period has been classically considered as a quiescent phase of testicular development, but is actually characterized by intense, yet inapparent activity. Testicular volume increases vigorously shortly after birth and in early infancy due to the growth in length of seminiferous cords. This longitudinal growth results from active proliferation of infantile Sertoli cells which otherwise display a unique array of functional capabilities (oestrogen and anti-müllerian hormone secretion, increase of FSH receptors and maximal response to FSH). Leydig cells also show recrudescence after birth, possibly determined by an active gonadotrophic-testicular axis which results in increased testosterone secretion of uncertain functional role. This postnatal activation slowly subsides during late infancy when periodic phases of activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-testicular axis are paralleled by incomplete spermatogenic spurts. The beginning of puberty is marked by the simultaneous reawakening of Leydig cell function and succeeding phases of germ cell differentiation/degeneration which ultimately lead to final spermatogenic maturation. The marked testicular growth in this stage is due to progressive increase at seminiferous tubule diameter. Sertoli cells, which have reached mitotic arrest, develop and differentiate, establishing the seminiferous tubule barrier, fluid secretion and lumen formation, and acquiring cyclic morphological and metabolic variations characteristic of the mature stage. All of these modifications indicate that, far from being quiescent, the testis in primates experiences numerous changes during infancy, and that the potential for pubertal development and normal adult fertility depends on the successful completion of these changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leydig Cells / cytology
  • Male
  • Primates
  • Seminiferous Tubules / cytology
  • Sertoli Cells / cytology
  • Spermatozoa / cytology
  • Testis / growth & development*