The initial steps of steroidogenesis occur in the mitochondria. Dynamic changes in the mitochondria are associated with their fission and fusion. Therefore, understanding the cellular and molecular relationships between steroidogenesis and mitochondrial dynamics is important. The hypothesis of the current study is that mitochondrial fission and fusion are closely associated with steroid hormone synthesis in testicular Leydig cells. Steroid hormone production, induced by dibutyryl cAMP (dbcAMP) in Leydig cells, was accompanied by increased mitochondrial mass. Mitochondrial elongation increased during the dbcAMP-induced steroid production, whereas mitochondrial fragmentation was reduced. Among the mitochondrial-shaping proteins, the level of dynamin-associated protein 1 (Drp1) was altered in response to dbcAMP stimulation. The increase in Drp1 Ser 637 phosphorylation correlated with steroid hormone production in the MA-10 Leydig cells as well as in the primary adult rat Leydig cells. Drp1 was differentially expressed in the Leydig cells during testicular development. Finally, gonadotropin administration altered the status of Drp1 phosphorylation in the Leydig cells of immature rat testes. Overall, mitochondrial dynamics is directly linked to steroidogenesis, and Drp1 plays an important regulatory role during steroidogenesis. This study shows that Drp1 level is regulated by cAMP and that its phosphorylation via protein kinase A (PKA) activation plays a decisive role in mitochondrial shaping by offering an optimal environment for steroid hormone biosynthesis in Leydig cells. Therefore, it is suggested that PKA-mediated Drp1 Ser 637 phosphorylation is indispensable for steroidogenesis in the Leydig cells, and this phosphorylation results in mitochondrial elongation via the relative attenuation of mitochondrial fission during steroidogenesis.
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