Testosterone production by Leydig cells is a tightly regulated process requiring synchronized expression of several steroidogenic genes by numerous transcription factors. Myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2) are transcription factors recently identified in somatic cells of the male gonad. In other tissues, MEF2 factors are essential regulators of organogenesis and cell differentiation. So far in the testis, MEF2 factors were found to regulate Leydig cell steroidogenesis by controlling Nr4a1 and Star gene expression. To expand our understanding of the role of MEF2 in Leydig cells, we performed microarray analyses of MEF2-depleted MA-10 Leydig cells, and the results were analyzed using Partek and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software. Several genes were differentially expressed in MEF2-depleted Leydig cells, and 16 were validated by quantitative RT-PCR. A large number of these genes are known to be involved in fertility, gonad morphology, and steroidogenesis. These include Ahr, Bmal1, Cyp1b1, Hsd3b1, Hsd17b7, Map2k1, Nr0b2, Pde8a, Por, Smad4, Star, and Tsc22d3, which were all downregulated in the absence of MEF2. In silico analyses revealed the presence of MEF2-binding sites within the first 2 kb upstream of the transcription start site of the Por, Bmal1, and Nr0b2 promoters, suggesting direct regulation by MEF2. Using transient transfections in MA-10 Leydig cells, small interfering RNA knockdown, and a MEF2-Engrailed dominant negative, we found that MEF2 activates the Por, Bmal1, and Nr0b2 promoters and that this requires an intact MEF2 element. Our results identify novel target genes for MEF2 and define MEF2 as an important regulator of Leydig cell function and male reproduction.
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Vol. 93 • No. 1