The amount of testosterone synthesized is regulated by the hypothalamic–pituitary–testicular axis (see figure to the right). When testosterone levels are low, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is released by the hypothalamus, which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release FSH and LH. These latter two hormones stimulate the testis to synthesize testosterone. Finally, increasing levels of testosterone through a negative feedback loop act on the hypothalamus and pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH and FSH/LH, respectively.
Male hypogonadism becomes more common with increasing age and is currently an under-treated condition. The diagnosis of hypogonadism in the aging male requires a combination of symptoms and low serum testosterone levels. The currently available testosterone preparations can produce consistent physiological testosterone levels and provide for patient preference.
The effects of testosterone in humans and other vertebrates occur by way of multiple mechanisms: by activation of the androgen receptor (directly or as DHT), and by conversion to estradiol and activation of certain estrogen receptors. Androgens such as testosterone have also been found to bind to and activate membrane androgen receptors.
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
Erectile dysfunction is a common finding in the aging male. A prevalence of over 70% was found in men older than 70 in a recent cross-sectional study (Ponholzer et al 2005). Treatment with phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors is proven to be effective for the majority of men but some do not respond (Shabsigh and Anastasiadis 2003). The condition is multi-factorial, with contributions from emotional, vascular, neurological and pharmacological factors. The concept of erectile dysfunction as a vascular disease is particularly interesting in view of the evidence presented above, linking testosterone to atherosclerosis and describing its action as a vasodilator.
Type 2 diabetes is an important condition in terms of morbidity and mortality, and the prevalence is increasing in the developed and developing world. The prevalence also increases with age. Insulin resistance is a primary pathological feature of type 2 diabetes and predates the onset of diabetes by many years, during which time raised serum insulin levels compensate and maintain normoglycemia. Insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance are also part of the metabolic syndrome which also comprises an abnormal serum lipid profile, central obesity and hypertension. The metabolic syndrome can be considered to be a pre-diabetic condition and is itself linked to cardiovascular mortality. Table 1 shows the three commonly used definitions of the metabolic syndrome as per WHO, NCEPIII and IDF respectively (WHO 1999; NCEPIII 2001; Zimmet et al 2005).