Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is a hereditary condition in patients with a 46,XY karyotype in which loss-of-function mutations of the androgen receptor (AR) gene are responsible for defects in virilization. The aim of this study was to investigate the consequences of the lack of AR activity on germ cell survival and the degree of testicular development reached by these patients by analyzing gonadal tissue from patients with AIS prior to Sertoli cell maturation at puberty. Twenty-three gonads from 13 patients with AIS were assessed and compared to 18 testes from 17 subjects without endocrine disorders. The study of the gonadal structure using conventional microscopy and the ultrastructural characteristics of remnant germ cells using electron microscopy, combined with the immunohistochemical analysis of specific germ cell markers (MAGE-A4 for premeiotic germ cells and of OCT3/4 for gonocytes), enabled us to carry out a thorough investigation of germ cell life in an androgen-insensitive microenvironment throughout prepuberty until young adulthood. Here, we show that germ cell degeneration starts very early, with a marked decrease in number after only 2 years of life, and we demonstrate the permanence of gonocytes in AIS testis samples until puberty, describing 2 different populations. Additionally, our results provide further evidence for the importance of AR signaling in peritubular myoid cells during prepuberty to maintain Sertoli and spermatogonial cell health and survival.

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