Androgens and male fertility

Abstract

Androgens play a crucial role in the development of male reproductive organs such as the epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicle, prostate and the penis. Furthermore, androgens are needed for puberty, male fertility and male sexual function. High levels of intratesticular testosterone, secreted by the leydig cells, are necessary for spermatogenesis. Intratesticular testosterone is mainly bound to androgen binding protein and secreted into the seminiferous tubules. Inside the sertoli cells, testosterone is selectively bound to the androgen receptor and activation of the receptor will result in initiation and maintenance of the spermatogenic process and inhibition of germ cell apoptosis. The androgen receptor is found in all male reproductive organs and can be stimulated by either testosterone or its more potential metabolite dihydrotestosterone. Severe defects of the androgen receptor may result in abnormal male sexual development. More subtle modulations can be a potential cause of male infertility. Treatment of an infertile man with testosterone does improve spermatogenesis, since exogenous administrated testosterone and its metabolite estrogen will suppress both GnRH production by the hypothalamus and Luteinising hormone production by the pituitary gland and subsequently suppress testicular testosterone production. Also, high levels of testosterone are needed inside the testis and this can never be accomplished by oral or parenteral administration of androgens. Suppression of testosterone production by the leydig cells will result in a deficient spermatogenesis, as can be seen in men taking anabolic-androgenic steroids. Suppression of spermatogenesis by testosterone administration is also the basis for the development of a male contraceptive. During cytotoxic treatment or irradiation suppression of intratesticular testosterone production cells may prevent irreversible damage to the spermotogonial stem cells.

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Correspondence to G. R. Dohle.

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Dohle, G.R., Smit, M. & Weber, R.F.A. Androgens and male fertility. World J Urol 21, 341–345 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00345-003-0365-9

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Keywords

  • Androgens
  • Male infertility
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Testicular development
  • Anabolic steroids