Evidence for Leydig Cell Dysfunction in Infertile Men with a Selective Increase in Plasma Follicle-Stimulating Hormone*
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Recent studies in acutely castrated males of several species have demonstrated that testosterone (T) alone, given in doses that produce normal plasma T levels, can maintain normal plasma FSH and LH levels. This suggests that a nonsteroidal factor from the seminiferous tubule is not required to regulate FSH release, and raises the possibility that Leydig cell function may not be fully normal in oligo- or azoospermic men with increased plasma FSH levels. To clarify this, we studied T production rates in 11 sexually mature, infertile, but otherwise healthy men who had increased plasma FSH and normal plasma LH, T, and estradiol levels and in 9 normal men. Although individual plasma T and LH levels in the infertile men were within the normal ranges, the mean plasma T level of the infertile men was significantly lower (P less than 0.002), and the mean plasma LH level was significantly higher (P less than 0.002) than values in the normal men. The infertile men also had significantly lower plasma free T concentrations (P less than 0.005), while sex hormone-binding globulin and estradiol levels were similar to those of the normal men. The production rate of T in the infertile men was half that in the normal men (P less than 0.001). We conclude that T production is significantly reduced in infertile men who have a selective increase in plasma FSH. Because of the known role of Leydig cell sex steroids in the negative feedback control of FSH, this finding may explain the elevated plasma FSH concentrations characteristic of men with germ cell loss without the need to postulate a deficiency of a separate seminiferous tubule factor.
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