The human genome project has identified, besides ovarian relaxin (RLN), six other relaxin-like molecules (RLN3, H1-RLN, INSL3-6), most of which appear to be expressed in the testis and/or male reproductive system, together with four different G-protein-coupled receptors responsive to one or other of these peptides. Earlier work on relaxin in the male assumed the simplistic hypothesis of only a single relaxin-like entity. This review systematically examines the expression and physiology of relaxin-like molecules in the male reproductive system in order to reappraise the importance of this hormone system for male reproductive function. Although there are important species differences, only INSL3 and INSL6 appear to be generally expressed at a moderately high level within the testis, whereas ovarian RLN is consistently a major secretory product of the prostate epithelium. However, all members of this relaxin-like family appear to be expressed also at a low level in different organs of the male reproductive system, suggesting possible autocrine/paracrine effects. The four receptors (RXFP1-4) for these peptides are also expressed to differing levels in both somatic and seminiferous compartments of the testis and in the prostate, supporting relevant functions for most members of this interesting peptide family. Recent studies of relaxin family peptides in prostate pathology highlight their functional importance in the clinical context as potential causative, diagnostic and therapeutic agents and warrant more specific and detailed studies of their roles also in regard to male fertility and other aspects of male reproductive function.
- Insulin-like peptide
- Relaxin family peptide receptor