β-Endorphin and other peptides derived from proopiomelanocortin are synthesized in testicular Leydig cells. To better understand the possible function of these and other endogenous opioid peptides in the testis, the opioid antagonists naloxone and nalmefene were administered intratesticularly to hemicastrated 5-day-old rats. Both naloxone and nalmefene potentiated testicular hypertrophy induced by unilateral orchidectomy at 11 days of age. Unexpectedly, at least a 100-fold lower dose of nalmefene was required to produce maximal hypertrophy than that previously reported for naloxone. Leydig and Sertoli cell functions were evaluated, respectively, by measurement of basal testosterone production in vitro and rat androgen-binding protein (rABP) in serum. The optimal dose of naloxone for hypertrophy (1 μg/testis) suppressed testosterone production and had a nonuniform effect on rABP secretion (either had no effect or produced a slight increase). By contrast, the optimal dose of nalmefene for hypertrophy (0.01 μg/testis) not only suppressed basal testosterone secretion, but also uniformly increased rABP levels in serum. Larger doses of this opioid antagonist, up to 1 μg/testis, were not as effective on the three parameters measured (hypertrophy, testosterone secretion, and rABP levels). These results suggest that this agent has both antagonistic and agonistic activities in the testis. At the doses that produced optimal effects on hypertrophy, systemic administration of these antagonists produced no effects. The results of these studies suggest that intratesticular opiates exert a suppressive effect on Sertoli cell growth and rABP secretion. In addition, these peptides may modulate testosterone secretion by Leydig cells.
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