Leydig cells, thyroid hormones and steroidogenesis

Indian J Exp Biol. 2005 Nov;43(11):939-62.


Leydig cells are the primary source of androgens in the mammalian testis. It is established that the luteinizing hormone (LH) produced by the anterior pituitary is required to maintain the structure and function of the Leydig cells in the postnatal testis. Until recent years, a role by the thyroid hormones on Leydig cells was not documented. It is evident now that thyroid hormones perform many functions in Leydig cells. For the process of postnatal Leydig cell differentiation, thyroid hormones are crucial. Thyroid hormones acutely stimulate Leydig cell steroidogenesis. Thyroid hormones cause proliferation of the cytoplasmic organelle peroxisome and stimulate the production of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) and StAR mRNA in Leydig cells; both peroxisomes and StAR are linked with the transport of cholesterol, the obligatory intermediate in steroid hormone biosynthesis, into mitochondria. The presence of thyroid hormone receptors in Leydig cells and other cell types of the Leydig lineage is an issue that needs to be fully addressed in future studies. As thyroid hormones regulate many functions of Sertoli cells and the Sertoli cells regulate certain functions of Leydig cells, effects of thyroid hormones on Leydig cells mediated via the Sertoli cells are also reviewed in this paper. Additionally, out of all cell types in the testis, the thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), TRH mRNA and TRH receptor are present exclusively in Leydig cells. However, whether Leydig cells have a regulatory role on the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid axis is currently unknown.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Humans
  • Leydig Cells / cytology*
  • Leydig Cells / physiology
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone / metabolism
  • Sertoli Cells / pathology
  • Steroids / metabolism*
  • Testis / pathology
  • Thyroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Phosphoproteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone
  • Steroids
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • steroidogenic acute regulatory protein
  • Luteinizing Hormone