Reproductive Hormones

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the roles of male reproductive hormones
  • Describe the roles of female reproductive hormones

Male Hormones

At the onset of puberty, the hypothalamus causes the release of FSH and LH into the male system for the first time. FSH enters the testes and stimulates the Sertoli cells to begin facilitating spermatogenesis using negative feedback, as illustrated in Figure 1. LH also enters the testes and stimulates the interstitial cells of Leydig to make and release testosterone into the testes and the blood.

Hormonal control of the male reproductive system is mediated by the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary and testes. The hypothalamus releases GnRN, causing the anterior pituitary to release LH and FSH. FSH and LH both act on the testes. FSH stimulates the Sertoli cells in the testes to facilitate spermatogenesis and to secrete inhibin. LH causes the Leydig cells in the testes to secrete testosterone. Testosterone further stimulates spermatogenesis by the Sertoli cells, but inhibits GnRH, LH, and FSH production by the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary. Inhibin secreted by Sertoli cells also inhibits FSH and LH production by the anterior pituitary.

Figure 1. Hormones control sperm production in a negative feedback system.

Testosterone, the hormone responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics that develop in the male during adolescence, stimulates spermatogenesis. These secondary sex characteristics include a deepening of the voice, the growth of facial, axillary, and pubic hair, and the beginnings of the sex drive.

A negative feedback system occurs in the male with rising levels of testosterone acting on the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH, FSH, and LH. The Sertoli cells produce the hormone inhibin, which is released into the blood when the sperm count is too high. This inhibits the release of GnRH and FSH, which will cause spermatogenesis to slow down. If the sperm count reaches 20 million/ml, the Sertoli cells cease the release of inhibin, and the sperm count increases.

Female Hormones

The control of reproduction in females is more complex. As with the male, the anterior pituitary hormones cause the release of the hormones FSH and LH. In addition, estrogens and progesterone are released from the developing follicles. Estrogen is the reproductive hormone in females that assists in endometrial regrowth, ovulation, and calcium absorption; it is also responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics of females. These include breast development, flaring of the hips, and a shorter period necessary for bone maturation. Progesterone assists in endometrial re-growth and inhibition of FSH and LH release.

In females, FSH stimulates development of egg cells, called ova, which develop in structures called follicles. Follicle cells produce the hormone inhibin, which inhibits FSH production. LH also plays a role in the development of ova, induction of ovulation, and stimulation of estradiol and progesterone production by the ovaries. Estradiol and progesterone are steroid hormones that prepare the body for pregnancy. Estradiol produces secondary sex characteristics in females, while both estradiol and progesterone regulate the menstrual cycle.

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