While in the throes of working on my first investigational new drug (IND) application with its sketchy preclinical studies (and under a tight deadline), I happily distracted myself this evening with Jesse Bering’s Why do human testicles hang like that?
Granted, Gordon Gallup et al.’s research at face value seems anthropocentric as noted by a commenter, and evolutionary psychology is a highly speculative kind of science, but it’s an engaging article thanks to Bering’s (a columnist for Scientific American) sense of humor. A couple of my favorite passages pertaining to thermoregulatory properties of the ol’ nut sack and surrounding tissues:
It’s also why it’s generally inadvisable for men to wear tight-fitting jeans or especially snug “tighty whities”–under these restrictive conditions the testicles are shoved up against the body and artificially warmed so that the cremasteric muscle cannot do its job properly. Another reason not to wear these things is that it’s no longer 1988.
Like ambient heat generated by individual solar panels, when it comes to spermatic temperatures, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With a keen enough eye, presumably one could master the art of “ reading” testicle alignment, using the scrotum as a makeshift room thermometer . But that’s just me speculating.
I have to tip my crone’s beribboned red hat to men for their ability to poke fun at their nether parts as Dr. Bering and many male friends and colleagues do. I used to hear such jocularity frequently thanks to my research back in the day. Gather ’round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale.
Once upon a time, my work focused on enzymes involved with androgen biosynthesis: steroid 17alpha-hydroxylase/C17-20 lyase and steroid 5alpha-reductase.
Steroid 17alpha-hydroxylase/C17-20 lyase, also known as P450C17 or CYPc17, is a dual function enzyme that, depending on signaling from other enzymes that associate with it (these other enzymes feed CYPc17 electron equivalents), either makes glucocorticoids via the 17-hydroxylation activity or androgens which are in turn converted by other enzymes to testosterone or the estrogens.
Steroidogenesis for Dummies
And here are the more detailed steps with structures:
The idea of the research was to come up with an inhibitor to act as a blockade of androgen production as a potential therapeutic for androgen-dependent prostate cancer. The bugaboo is that designing a selective inhibitor for this dual function enzyme is a tremendous hurdle, i.e., blocking C17-20 lyase activity without affecting 17-hydroxylase would be extremely difficult (one doesn’t want to fuck around with glucocorticoids in very ill patients).
Steroid 5alpha-reductase (5AR) converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which binds even more tightly to the androgen receptor. DHT is a major player in conferring male-specific sex characteristics like facial and body hair growth, and deepening of the voice. It also contributes to male pattern baldness and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And in fact, there are 5AR inhibitors that are marketed drugs for BPH (Proscar) and male pattern baldness (Propecia). However, these drugs are teratogenic as all get out to a developing fetus. Not that a guy using these needs to worry, but his female partner who might become pregnant does.
Anyway, I worked on 5AR and P450c17 back in the day before recombinant DNA was routinely introduced into human cell culture to make recombinant proteins. Because these two enzymes are integral membrane proteins, they’re a bugger to isolate (they tend to curl up and die if pulled out of the membrane environment) so they must be studied in microsomal preps.
Back then in the Jurassic Era (early 90s), I had to gather human testicular and prostate tissue to isolate the membranes that held the enzymes. I was also the only female sr. scientist in the chemistry division at the time I studied these enzymes, and often the only woman present at group and project meetings. So invariably the fellows would make jokes about their testes and prostate and cover their crotches before we discussed my research. I didn’t find this offensive, but instead was amused. It’s like they had to get their concern about their ‘nads and their prostates out of the way first with sophomoric humor before we moved on to Serious Science.
At any rate, Bering’s humor reminded me of those good old days when I actually did science. Hence the fit of nostalgic reverie and my unending affection and amusement for the male of the species and their penchant for ball jokes.