Objective: Inhibin B in males is produced principally by Sertoli cells under the influence of FSH and is thought to have a role in feedback regulation of FSH. The aims of our study were to investigate how inhibin B changes from birth to late adolescence in boys, to derive reference data and to explore its relation with pubertal stage, FSH and testosterone.
Design and subjects: Blood samples were collected from (i) 366 boys aged 0--18 years to obtain age-related reference data; (ii) 195 boys who had full pubertal staging; and (iii) a cohort of 15 boys studied longitudinally as they approached and entered early puberty.
Measurements: Dimeric inhibin B was measured by double antibody enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), FSH by immunoradiometric assay (IRA) and testosterone by an extraction radioimmunoassay.
Results: Inhibin B was high in infant boys, decreased gradually to a nadir at 6--10 years of age, then increased rapidly in early adolescence to reach a new plateau at 12--17 years. It was detectable in all samples. Age-related reference ranges and data for calculation of SD scores are presented. In prepubertal boys, inhibin B correlated positively with age (P < 0.001), but not with FSH. Inhibin B increased progressively from pubertal stages G1 to G3 but then decreased slightly at stages G4 to G5 (P less-than-or-equal 0.01). At stage G2, inhibin B correlated positively with testosterone (P < 0.01) but not with FSH. From stage G3 onwards, inhibin B correlated inversely with FSH (P < 0.01) but lost its relationship with testosterone. In the cohort of boys studied longitudinally, inhibin B increased progressively prior to pubertal onset and further on entry into early clinical puberty (P < 0.05). Testosterone also increased over this period (P < 0.05) but FSH showed no significant change.
Conclusions: The two peaks of inhibin B during infancy and early puberty appear to reflect the two periods of Sertoli cell proliferation in normal human males. During mid-childhood, a relatively constant amount of inhibin B is secreted constitutively. The early FSH-independent increase in inhibin B that precedes clinical puberty and continues to stage G2 may be stimulated by testosterone or other factors from Leydig cells. The inverse relationship between inhibin B and FSH that subsequently develops from mid-puberty onwards is consistent with the establishment of a negative feedback loop at this time.