Identification of novel genes and pathways regulated by the orphan nuclear receptor COUP-TFII in mouse MA-10 Leydig cells†

Biol Reprod. 2021 Nov 15;105(5):1283-1306. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioab131.


In males, Leydig cells are the main producers of testosterone and insulin-like 3 (INSL3), two hormones essential for sex differentiation and reproductive functions. Chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter-transcription factors I (COUP-TFI/NR2F1) and COUP-TFII (NR2F2) belong to the steroid/thyroid hormone nuclear receptor superfamily of transcription factors. In the testis, COUP-TFII is expressed and plays a role in the differentiation of cells committed to give rise to fully functional steroidogenic adult Leydig cells. Steroid production has also been shown to be diminished in COUP-TFII-depleted Leydig cells, indicating an important functional role in steroidogenesis. Until now, only a handful of target genes have been identified for COUP-TFII in Leydig cells. To provide new information into the mechanism of action of COUP-TFII in Leydig cells, we performed microarray analyses of COUP-TFII-depleted MA-10 Leydig cells. We identified 262 differentially expressed genes in COUP-TFII-depleted MA-10 cells. Many of the differentially expressed genes are known to be involved in lipid biosynthesis, lipid metabolism, male gonad development, and steroidogenesis. We validated the microarray data for a subset of the modulated genes by RT-qPCR. Downregulated genes included hydroxy-delta-5-steroid dehydrogenase, 3 beta- and steroid delta-isomerase 1 (Hsd3b1), cytochrome P450, family 11, subfamily a, polypeptide 1 (Cyp11a1), prolactin receptor (Prlr), nuclear receptor subfamily 0, group B, member 2 (Shp/Nr0b2), ferredoxin 1 (Fdx1), scavenger receptor class B, member 1 (Scarb1), inhibin alpha (Inha), and glutathione S-transferase, alpha 3 (Gsta3). Finally, analysis of the Gsta3 and Inha gene promoters showed that at least two of the downregulated genes are potentially new direct targets for COUP-TFII. These data provide new evidence that further strengthens the important nature of COUP-TFII in steroidogenesis, androgen homeostasis, cellular defense, and differentiation in mouse Leydig cells.

Keywords: Gsta3; COUP-TFII; Leydig cells; NR2F2; nuclear receptor; steroidogenesis; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COUP Transcription Factor II / genetics*
  • COUP Transcription Factor II / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Leydig Cells / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Signal Transduction*


  • COUP Transcription Factor II
  • Nr2f2 protein, mouse