SULFATION PATHWAYS: Formation and hydrolysis of sulfonated estrogens in the porcine testis and epididymis

J Mol Endocrinol. 2018 Aug;61(2):M13-M25. doi: 10.1530/JME-17-0245. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Boars exhibit high concentrations of sulfonated estrogens (SE) mainly originating from the testicular-epididymal compartment. Intriguingly, in porcine Leydig cells, sulfonation of estrogens is colocalized with aromatase and steroid sulfatase (STS), indicating that de novo synthesis of unconjugated estrogens (UE), their sulfonation and hydrolysis of SE occur within the same cell type. So far in boars no plausible concept concerning the role of SE has been put forward. To obtain new information on SE formation and hydrolysis, the porcine testicular-epididymal compartment was screened for the expression of the estrogen-specific sulfotransferase SULT1E1 and STS applying real-time RT-qPCR, Western blot and immunohistochemistry. The epididymal head was identified as the major site of SULT1E1 expression, whereas in the testis, it was virtually undetectable. However, SE tissue concentrations are clearly consistent with the testis as the predominant site of estrogen sulfonation. Results from measurements of estrogen sulfotransferase activity indicate that in the epididymis, SULT1E1 is the relevant enzyme, whereas in the testis, estrogens are sulfonated by a different sulfotransferase with a considerably lower affinity. STS expression and activity was high in the testis (Leydig cells, rete testis epithelium) but also present throughout the epididymis. In the epididymis, SULT1E1 and STS were colocalized in the ductal epithelium, and there was evidence for their apocrine secretion into the ductal lumen. The results suggest that in porcine Leydig cells, SE may be produced as a reservoir to support the levels of bioactive UE via the sulfatase pathway during periods of low activity of the pulsatile testicular steroidogenesis.

Keywords: SULT1E1; boar; epididymis; estrogen; steroid sulfatase; testis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Epididymis / metabolism*
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microsomes / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Steryl-Sulfatase / metabolism
  • Sulfotransferases / metabolism
  • Swine
  • Testis / metabolism*


  • Estrogens
  • Sulfotransferases
  • estrone sulfotransferase
  • Steryl-Sulfatase