Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 92, Issue 6, pp 2013–2025 | Cite as

Corticosteroid-binding globulin, induced in testicular Leydig cells by perfluorooctanoic acid, promotes steroid hormone synthesis

  • Sujie Sun
  • Jianshe WangEmail author
  • Yin Lu
  • Jiayin Dai
Molecular Toxicology


Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is an abundant perfluoroalkyl substance widely applied in industrial and consumer products. It is a ubiquitous environmental pollutant and suspected endocrine disruptor. Corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) is a monomeric glycoprotein that can bind specifically to anti-inflammatory steroids, such as glucocorticoids and progesterone, in circulation. Our previous proteomic profile analysis revealed that CBG levels increased in testes after PFOA treatment. In the present study, we verified its increase in mouse testes following oral exposure to PFOA (0, 1.25 and 5 mg/kg/day for 28 days) by immunohistochemical analysis and Western blotting. In addition, RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) confirmed that testicular CBG was specifically expressed in Leydig cells. Serum CBG levels in all three PFOA groups also increased, accompanied by increased corticosterone in the 5 and 20 mg/kg/day groups and decreased adrenocorticotropic hormone in the 20 mg/kg/day group. Thus, the influence of PFOA on blood CBG may change free steroid hormone concentrations, thereby serving as an endocrine disruptor. A stimulation effect of PFOA on CBG was also observed in vitro using the Leydig tumor mLTC-1 cell line. Overexpression of CBG in mLTC-1 cells increased progesterone release in culture media. In addition, CBG-induced proteins involved in steroidogenesis in mLTC-1 cells, including steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), cytochrome P450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A1), 17α-hydroxylase/17,20 lyase (CYP17A1), and 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD), which may be the mechanism behind increased progesterone. Furthermore, the production and release of CBG in mLTC-1 cells were also induced by luteinizing hormone, though this mechanism requires further exploration.


Perfluorooctanoic acid Progesterone Leydig cell Corticosteroid-binding globulin 



17α-Hydroxylase/17,20 lyase


3β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase


Adrenocorticotropic hormone


Corticosteroid-binding globulin


Corticotrophin-releasing hormone


Cytochrome P450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme




Luteinizing hormone


Open reading frame


Perfluoroalkyl substances




Reactive center loop


Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31320103915, 21737004, and 21377128). We thank Prof. Geoffrey L. Hammond from the Departments of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of British Columbia, Canada, for providing CBG antibodies.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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