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Published in Biology of Reproduction, Vol.63, 3, 2000, pp.736-747.


Androgen-induced calcium fluxes and gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) were studied in three different cell types. A transient (2–3 min duration) increase in intracellular calcium levels was observed within 20–30 sec of androgen addition, which was followed by a plateau phase with steroid concentrations higher than 1 nM. The kinetics of the calcium responses were similar in immature rat Sertoli cells, which contain normal nuclear receptors; the human prostatic tumor cell line, LNCaP, which contains a mutated nuclear receptor; and the human prostatic cell line, PC3, which does not contain a nuclear receptor. The human A431 tumor cell line did not respond to androgens. Concentrations of testosterone and the synthetic androgen, R1881, between 1–1000 pM induced transient calcium increases with ED50 values near 1 pM and 1 nM, whereas dihydrotestosterone (DHT) was not active at these concentrations. At concentrations higher than 1 nM, testosterone, R1881, and DHT were equipotent in stimulating an increase in calcium that lasted for more than 10 min, with ED50 values between 5 and 20 nM. Testosterone covalently bound to albumin was also active, whereas 11 related androstane compounds as well as progesterone and estradiol-17ß were inactive at 1000 nM. The calcium response induced by the three androgens (10 nM) was abolished in all cell types by hydroxyflutamide (1000 nM) and finasteride (1000 nM), but not by cyproterone acetate (1000 nM). The calcium response was also abolished in the absence of extracellular calcium and strongly inhibited by the presence of verapamil. Exposure of the responsive cells to brief (150-sec) pulses of androgens generated calcium responses that were similar to those after continuous exposure. After exposure of Sertoli cells for only 30 sec to 100 nM testosterone, the calcium response lasted for at least 50 min. Although nuclear binding of androgens could be demonstrated, there was no evidence for tight binding to the plasma membrane under similar conditions. When protein synthesis was inhibited, an enhancement of GJIC between rat Sertoli cells, but not between LNCaP cells or PC3 cells, was observed within 15 min of the addition of 10 nM testosterone. Because nuclear androgens are not present in PC3 cells and many functional properties of the responsive system are different from the nuclear receptor in all three cell types, we postulate the existence of an alternative cell surface receptor system with biphasic response characteristics (high and low affinity). The calcium signals are probably coupled to the regulation of gap junctional efficiency between Sertoli cells. The low-affinity receptors may convey complementary androgen signals at elevated local levels such as in the testis, when nuclear receptors are (over)saturated.