The age-related decline in testosterone biosynthesis in testicular Leydig cells has been well documented, but the mechanisms involved in the decline are not clear. Recent studies have described a cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2)-dependent tonic inhibition of Leydig cell steroidogenesis and expression of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). The present study was conducted to determine whether COX2 protein increases with age in rat Leydig cells and whether COX2 plays a role in the age-related decline in testosterone biosynthesis. Our results indicate that from 3 months of age to 30 months, COX2 protein in aged rat Leydig cells increased by 346% over that of young Leydig cells, StAR protein decreased to 33%, and blood testosterone concentration and testosterone biosynthesis in Leydig cells decreased to 41 and 33%, respectively. Further experiments demonstrated that overexpressing COX2 in MA-10 mouse Leydig cells inhibited StAR gene expression and steroidogenesis and that the inhibitory effects of COX2 could be reversed by blocking COX2 activity. Notably, incubation of aged Leydig cells with the COX2 inhibitor NS398 enhanced their testosterone biosynthesis. Blood testosterone concentrations in aged rats fed the COX2 inhibitor DFU, at doses of 5, 10, 15, and 20 mg/kg body weight per day were increased by 15, 23, 56, and 120%, respectively, over the levels in the rats receiving no DFU. The present study suggests a novel mechanism in male aging involving COX2 and a potential application of the mechanism to delay the age-related decline in testosterone biosynthesis.
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