Fertility Preservation in Childhood Cancer: Endocrine Activity in Prepubertal Human Testis Xenografts Exposed to a Pubertal Hormone Environment

Cancers (Basel). 2020 Sep 30;12(10):2830. doi: 10.3390/cancers12102830.


Survivors of childhood cancer are at risk for long-term treatment-induced health sequelae, including gonadotoxicity and iatrogenic infertility. At present, for prepubertal boys there are no viable clinical options to preserve future reproductive potential. We investigated the effect of a pubertal induction regimen with gonadotrophins on prepubertal human testis xenograft development. Human testis tissue was obtained from patients with cancer and non-malignant haematological disorders (n = 6; aged 1-14 years) who underwent testis tissue cryopreservation for fertility preservation. Fresh and frozen-thawed testis fragments were transplanted subcutaneously or intratesticularly into immunocompromised mice. Graft-bearing mice received injections of vehicle or exogenous gonadotrophins, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG, 20 IU), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH, 12.5 IU) three times a week for 12 weeks. The gross morphology of vehicle and gonadotrophin-exposed grafts was similar for both transplantation sites. Exposure of prepubertal human testis tissue xenografts to exogenous gonadotrophins resulted in limited endocrine function of grafts, as demonstrated by the occasional expression of the steroidogenic cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A1). Plasma testosterone concentrations (0.13 vs. 0.25 ng/mL; p = 0.594) and seminal vesicle weights (10.02 vs. 13.93 mg; p = 0.431) in gonadotrophin-exposed recipient mice were comparable to vehicle-exposed controls. Regardless of the transplantation site and treatment, initiation and maintenance of androgen receptor (AR) expression were observed in Sertoli cells, indicating commitment towards a more differentiated status. However, neither exogenous gonadotrophins (in castrated host mice) nor endogenous testosterone (in intact host mice) were sufficient to repress the expression of markers associated with immature Sertoli cells, such as anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and Ki67, or to induce the redistribution of junctional proteins (connexin 43, CX43; claudin 11, CLDN11) to areas adjacent to the basement membrane. Spermatogonia did not progress developmentally but remained the most advanced germ cell type in testis xenografts. Overall, these findings demonstrate that exogenous gonadotrophins promote partial activation and maturation of the somatic environment in prepubertal testis xenografts. However, alternative hormone regimens or additional factors for pubertal induction are required to complete the functional maturation of the spermatogonial stem cell (SSC) niche.

Keywords: FSH; childhood cancer; fertility preservation; gonadotoxicity; hCG; prepubertal human testis; side effects; steroidogenesis; testosterone; xenotransplantation.