New Insights Into the Role of Estrogens in Male Fertility Based on Findings in Aromatase-Deficient Zebrafish

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It has been demonstrated that estrogens are indispensable for male fertility in mammals. Aromatase (encoded by CYP19) catalyzes the final step of estradiol biosynthesis. However, less is known about the role of aromatase in male fertility in nonmammalian species. Fish aromatase is encoded by two separate genes: the gonad-specific cyp19a1a and the brain-specific cyp19a1b. In a recent study, we used transcription activatorlike effector nucleases to systematically generate cyp19a1a and cyp19a1b mutant lines and a cyp19a1a;cyp19a1b double-mutant line in zebrafish and demonstrated that cyp19a1a was indispensable for sex differentiation. In this study, we focused on male fertility in these aromatase-deficient zebrafish. Our results showed that all aromatase-deficient male fish had normal fertility even at 1 year after fertilization. Interestingly, we observed more spermatozoa in the cyp19a1a and double-mutant males than in the wild-type and cyp19a1b mutant males. The whole-body androgen levels, follicle-stimulating hormone β and luteinizing hormone β protein levels in the pituitary, and transcript levels of genes known to be involved in spermatogenesis and steroidogenesis in the testes were significantly higher in the cyp19a1a mutant and aromatase double-mutant males than in the wild-type and cyp19a1b mutant males. These results might explain why more spermatozoa were observed in these fish. Collectively, our findings indicate that estrogens are not needed to achieve and maintain normal fertility in male zebrafish. This finding challenges the traditional view that estrogens are indispensable for male fertility.

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