Stem cell therapy for the treatment of Leydig cell dysfunction in primary hypogonadism

World J Stem Cells. 2016 Oct 26;8(10):306-315. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v8.i10.306.


The production of testosterone occurs within the Leydig cells of the testes. When production fails at this level from either congenital, acquired, or systemic disorders, the result is primary hypogonadism. While numerous testosterone formulations have been developed, none are yet fully capable of replicating the physiological patterns of testosterone secretion. Multiple stem cell therapies to restore androgenic function of the testes are under investigation. Leydig cells derived from bone marrow, adipose tissue, umbilical cord, and the testes have shown promise for future therapy for primary hypogonadism. In particular, the discovery and utilization of a group of progenitor stem cells within the testes, known as stem Leydig cells (SLCs), has led not only to a better understanding of testicular development, but of treatment as well. When combining this with an understanding of the mechanisms that lead to Leydig cell dysfunction, researchers and physicians will be able to develop stem cell therapies that target the specific step in the steroidogenic process that is deficient. The current preclinical studies highlight the complex nature of regenerating this steroidogenic process and the problems remain unresolved. In summary, there appears to be two current directions for stem cell therapy in male primary hypogonadism. The first method involves differentiating adult Leydig cells from stem cells of various origins from bone marrow, adipose, or embryonic sources. The second method involves isolating, identifying, and transplanting stem Leydig cells into testicular tissue. Theoretically, in-vivo re-activation of SLCs in men with primary hypogonadism due to age would be another alternative method to treat hypogonadism while eliminating the need for transplantation.

Keywords: Adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells; Bone marrow-derived stem cells; Leydig cells; Primary hypogonadism; Stem Leydig cells; Stem cell therapy; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Review