Increased maternal testosterone concentration during pregnancy may affect the fetus. Therefore it is clinically relevant to have a quick and reliable method to determine free testosterone levels. Current calculators for free testosterone are suspected to perform poorly during pregnancy due to suggested competition between high levels of estradiol and free (bio-active) testosterone for sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) binding. Therefore, it is claimed that reliable calculation of free testosterone concentration is not possible. However, recent evidence on SHBG-binding sites questions the estradiol effect on the testosterone-SHBG binding during pregnancy. In this study, we investigated whether the free testosterone concentration can be calculated in pregnant women.
Design and methods
Free testosterone was measured with a specially developed equilibrium dialysis method combined with liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Free testosterone was also calculated with the formulas of Vermeulen et al. and Ross et al.
Total and free testosterone measured in healthy men and women were in good agreement with earlier reports. In pregnant women, total testosterone values were higher than in non-pregnant women, whereas free testosterone values were comparable. Calculated free testosterone levels in pregnant women were highly correlated, but marginally higher, compared to measured free testosterone levels.
We developed an equilibrium dialysis–LC-MS/MS method for the measurement of free testosterone in the low range of pregnant and non-pregnant women. Although during pregnancy total testosterone is increased, this is not the case for free testosterone. The free testosterone formulas perform well in pregnant women.