Testosterone alters testis function through regulation of piRNA expression in rats.
Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) play a role in gene silencing of retrotransposons, maintenance of spermatogenesis and maturation in germlines. The piRNA and PIWI protein are essential for fertility. To reveal piRNA function associated with testosterone, we investigated the expression of piRNA and piwi protein in normal male rats and testosterone-treated rats. Normal Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats were randomly selected and sacrificed at neonatal to late adolescence stage stages (2, 9, 16, 20, 24, 28, 35, and 42 days, n = 6 each). Additional SD rats were divided into four groups: group 1 received weekly injections of testosterone enanthate (8 mg/100 g) during 1-3 weeks; group 2 during 3-5 weeks; group 3 during 1-5 weeks; and group 4 was the control (n = 20 each). These animals were sacrificed at an age of 60 days. We investigated piRNA, PIWI, and Ago3 protein levels using real-time PCR, Western blot, and immunohistochemistry in each group. In normal rats, PIWI protein and piRNA were expressed at P24. The expression of PIWI and piRNA gradually increased from adolescence to adulthood on Western blot, real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry. In testosterone-treated rats, the expression of PIWI protein was analyzed by Western blot and shown to be significantly increased in group 1 (neonatal to juvenile injection). In real-time PCR, the expression of piRNA after testosterone treatment was increased in all groups (G1 166.8 ± 2.7; G2 113.3 ± 4.6; G3 70.2 ± 1.5 vs. control, 32.87 ± 2.0, all p < 0.001). The expression of testosterone in adolescence induces the development of male genitourinary organs and spermatogenesis. At the same time, the sexual hormones may activate the piRNA and PIWI protein. Our data demonstrate that patterns of piRNA and PIWI expression are similar to the secretion pattern of testosterone, and that piRNA expression was increased after testosterone treatment. Therefore, testosterone may affect testis function through the regulation of piRNA expression in rats.