Previous studies have inconsistently reported elevated sex steroid levels in aging male F344 rats, which frequently develop testicular Leydig cell tumors. The aims of this study were to characterize circulating steroid levels and to determine the in vivo source and functional significance of altered steroid secretion in these animals. Progesterone (P) and to a lesser extent estradiol (E2) levels were increased, while gonadotropins and testosterone (T) were decreased, in intact 24-mo-old compared to 12-mo-old rats. P levels were inversely correlated with gonadotropins and T. All old rats demonstrated Leydig cell hyperplasia or tumors. After orchidectomy, P levels were markedly decreased. Gonadotropin levels were similar in orchidectomized 24-mo compared to 3-mo-old rats. We conclude that the testis is the source of excessive P and E2 secretion in vivo in old F344 rats. Increased P (or E2) negative feedback may contribute to the suppression of gonadotropins and reproductive function in aging male F344 rats. Finally, excessive P secretion may be a confounding pathological variable in aging studies using this rat model.
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