The aim of this study was to determine the effects of maternal undernutrition on ovine fetal testis morphology and expression of relevant histological indicators. Maternal undernutrition, in sheep, has been reported, previously, to alter fetal ovary development, as indicated by delayed folliculogenesis and the altered expression of ovarian apoptosis-regulating gene products, at day 110 of gestation. It is not known whether or not maternal undernutrition alters the same gene products in the day 110 fetal testis.
Design and methods
Mature Scottish Blackface ewes were fed either 100% (Control; C) or 50% (low; L) of estimated metabolisable energy requirements of a pregnant ewe, from mating to day 110 of gestation. All pregnant ewes were euthanized at day 110 and a sub-set of male fetuses was randomly selected (6 C and 9 L) for histology studies designed to address the effect of nutritional state on several indices of testis development. Sertoli cell numbers were measured using a stereological method and Ki67 (cell proliferation index), Bax (pro-apoptosis), Mcl-1 (anti-apoptosis), SCF and c-kit ligand (development and apoptosis) gene expression was measured in Bouins-fixed fetal testis using immunohistochemistry.
No significant differences were observed in numbers of Sertoli cells or testicular Ki67 positive cells. The latter were localised to the testicular cords and interstitium. Bax and Mcl-1 were localised specifically to the germ cells whereas c-kit was localised to both the cords and interstitium. SCF staining was very sparse. No treatment effects were observed for any of the markers examined.
These data suggest that, unlike in the fetal ovary, maternal undernutrition for the first 110 days of gestation affects neither the morphology of the fetal testis nor the expression of gene products which regulate apoptosis. It is postulated that the effects of fetal undernutrition on testis function may be expressed through hypothalamic-pituitary changes.