Hormonal Actions on the Sexual Differentiation of the Genitalia and the Gonadotropin-Regulating Systems

  • Harvey H. Feder


In 1903, Bouin and Ancel proposed that substances produced by the testes controlled differentiation of the embryonic genital structures. Their observation that there was a very well-developed secretory interstitium in the testes of pig embryos at the time of genital tract differentiation indirectly supported this notion. The idea of hormonal regulation of the process of sexual differentiation was given further impetus by studies of a phenomenon known as free-martinism. Freemartinism occurs in cows, sheep, goats, and pigs (Short, 1972). Descriptions of the syndrome in cattle include the following: (a) the freemartin calf is a sexually abnormal chromosomal female born as a twin to an apparently normal male; (b) about 90% of female cattle born as twins to males are sterile; (c) external genitalia of the freemartin are of the female type, and there is mammary gland development; (d) there is variable development of the internal genital tracts; and (e) the gonads are atrophic but resemble testes more than they resemble ovaries (Burns, 1961). To account for the occurrence of freemartinism, a “hormone theory” was devised by Keller and Tandler (1916) and by Lillie (1917). According to this theory, androgenic hormones produced by the male fetus are able to reach the female twin because of fusion of some of the placental blood vessels that supply the twins. The evidence in support of this view included the findings that such vascular anastomoses occurred in cattle (Fig. 1) and that in the 10% or so of cases in which a female twin of a male was fertile in adulthood, the placental anastomoses had been obliterated.


External Genitalia Female Fetus Urogenital Sinus Wolffian Duct Genital Ridge 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harvey H. Feder
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Animal BehaviorRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

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