Owing to the close phylogenetic relationship of Platyrrhini (New World monkeys) and Catarrhini (Old World monkeys) to man, nonhuman primates are often used as models for the study of male reproductive physiology and endocrinology. This review aims at providing new data and insights into comparative primate spermatogenesis, dealing specifically with quantitative aspects of germinal epithelial organisation and germ cell production, and with the roles of gonadotrophic hormones in this process.
Typically, the seminiferous epithelium is composed of specific germ cell associations (spermatogenic stages). In rodents, prosimians and most Catarrhini, tubular cross sections contain a single spermatogenic stage whereas in Platyrrhini, great apes and man multi-stage tubules are present. Since Platyrrhini represent a more basal type of primate, this spermatogenic feature must have developed convergently. The primate multi-stage tubular arrangement was previously believed to be associated with low spermatogenic efficiency. However, recent studies using new methodological approaches and comparing primate species from all taxa have revealed that multi-stage organisation is compatible with highly efficient spermatogenesis. In fact, meta-analysis demonstrated that the efficiency of spermatogenesis in several nonhuman primate species is comparable to that of rodents which are considered as species with highly efficient germ cell production. The duration of the spermatogenic process was not related to organisation or efficiency of spermatogenesis. Sertoli cell work load was species-specific but had no impact on germ cell numbers and on the efficiency of spermatogenesis.
The gonadotrophic hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) are the primary regulators of primate testicular function. Recent studies revealed that in New World monkeys chorionic gonadotrophin (CG) – the primate pregnancy hormone – regulates testosterone production instead of LH. Receptor studies demonstrated a dual action of the closely related hormones LH and CG in primates. It is hypothesised that following the divergence of the Platyrrhini lineage from Catarrhini, the LH/CG system evolved independently with ancestral functions of the LH/CG system retained in the neotropical taxa.
In summary, key spermatogenic features are preserved across all primate taxa whereas male reproductive endocrinology features appear substantially different in the neotropical primates compared to other primate lineages.