Response of the human testis to long-term estrogen treatment: morphology of Sertoli cells, Leydig cells and spermatogonial stem cells

Cell Tissue Res. 1988 Jan;251(1):31-43. doi: 10.1007/BF00215444.


The present investigation is concerned with the morphological changes observed in human testicular tissue following prolonged estrogen administration. Testicular material obtained from 11 transsexual patients who had been submitted to long-term estrogen treatment prior to sex-reversal surgery was studied by means of light- and electron microscopy. The testes of all patients examined present a more or less uniform appearance: There are narrow seminiferous cords surrounded by an extensively thickened lamina propria. They contain Sertoli cells and spermatogonia exclusively. There is no evidence of typical Leydig cells. The persisting spermatogonia show the characteristic features of pale type-A spermatogonia, whereas dark type-A spermatogonia are almost completely eliminated from the epithelium. In view of the fact that spermatogonia that survived radiotherapy and treatment with various noxious agents have recently been regarded as the stem cells of the human testis, it is suggested that also the majority of those spermatogonial types that are less sensitive to disturbances of the endocrine balance may consist of stem cells. The present results, therefore, corroborate the concept that the stem cells of the human testis may be derived from pale type-A spermatogonia or the variants of this cell type. Sertoli cells display two types of ovoid nuclei. In contrast to untreated material the nuclei lie adjacent to the basal lamina, and organelles and telolysosomes are confined to the apical cytoplasm. The apico-basal differentiation of mature cells, therefore, is not observed. Moreover, typical organelles and inclusions of mature cells are absent, as are the junctional specializations. Thus, Sertoli cells have transformed into immature cells, resembling precursors prior to puberty. Fibroblast-like cells in the interstitial tissue, which display strongly lobulated nuclei, a well-developed smooth endoplasmic reticulum, lipid droplets, and numerous inclusions are assumed to represent dedifferentiated Leydig cells. Since after estrogen treatment serum testosterone and gonadotropin levels are known to be reduced, it appears that the morphological changes correlate well with the endocrine status.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Estrogens / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Leydig Cells / drug effects
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Sertoli Cells / drug effects
  • Spermatogonia / drug effects
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Testis / cytology
  • Testis / drug effects*
  • Testis / ultrastructure
  • Transsexualism / drug therapy
  • Transsexualism / pathology*


  • Estrogens