Gonadotropins (luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)) are released from the pituitary gland and stimulate Leydig cells to produce testosterone and initiates spermatogenesis. Little is known about how and when the deterioration of semen quality occurs in patients with adult-onset gonadotropin insufficiency.
Design and methods
A retrospective study comprising 20 testosterone-deficient men (median age, 29 years) with acquired pituitary disease who delivered semen for cryopreservation before initiation of testosterone therapy. Semen variables and hormone concentrations were compared to those of young healthy men (n = 340).
Thirteen of 20 patients (65%) and 82% of controls had total sperm counts above 39 million and progressive motile spermatozoa above 32% (P = 0.05). For the individual semen variables, there were no significant differences in semen volume (median (intraquartile range) 3.0 (1.3–6.8) vs 3.2 (2.3–4.3) mL, P = 0.47), sperm concentration 41 (11–71) vs 43 (22–73) mill/mL (P = 0.56) or total sperm counts (P = 0.66). One patient had azoospermia. Patients vs controls had lower serum testosterone 5.4 (2.2–7.6) vs 19.7 (15.5–24.5) nmol/L (P = 0.001), calculated free testosterone (cfT) 145 (56–183) vs 464 (359–574) pmol/L (P < 0.001), LH 1.5 (1.1–2.1) vs 3.1 (2.3–4.0) U/L (P = 0.002) and inhibin b (P < 0.001). Levels of FSH were similar (P = 0.63). Testosterone/LH ratio and cfT/LH ratio were reduced in patients (both P < 0.001).
Despite Leydig cell insufficiency in patients with acquired pituitary insufficiency, the majority presented with normal semen quality based on the determination of the number of progressively motile spermatozoa. In addition, the data suggest reduced LH bioactivity in patients with pituitary insufficiency.