Disorders of androgen action

Semin Reprod Med. 2002 Aug;20(3):217-28. doi: 10.1055/s-2002-35386.


Disorders of androgen action are the main cause of male pseudohermaphroditism and include 5alphaR deficiency and androgen receptor defects. 5alphaR deficiency is characterized by female genitalia with some degree of masculinization, clitoromegaly, and severely bifid scrotum corresponding to the so-called pseudovaginal perineoscrotal hypospadias. At the onset of puberty, increased muscle mass, development of pubic hair, and phallic growth are associated with the acquisition of male gender identity. Normal or increased levels of testosterone and an elevated testosterone-to-dihydrotestosterone ratio after human chorionic gonadotropin stimulation testing suggest 5alphareductase deficiency, and the diagnosis can be ascertained by identifying the mutation in the 5alphaR-2 gene. Whatever the patient's age at diagnosis, psychological evaluation with 5alphaRD is vital. Androgen receptor defects encompass two clinical expressions: the complete and partial androgen insensitivity syndromes. Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome should be suspected at birth in the presence of inguinal hernia in a girl without genital ambiguity. At puberty, the sign of alert is primary amenorrhea with normal female phenotype and harmonious mammary development but no pubic hair growth. Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome covers a wide spectrum of undervirilized phenotypes ranging from clitoromegaly at birth to infertile men. In all cases, complementary investigations should include plasma testosterone and luteinizing hormone as well as androgen-binding capacity in cultured genital skin fibroblasts. Diagnosis is confirmed by identification of the androgen receptor gene mutation. Although patients with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome are raised as females, patients with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome should be managed according to age at diagnosis, response to treatment with exogenous androgens, and the presence of an androgen gene mutation. Gonadectomy in complete androgen insensitivity syndrome should be performed before puberty, and androgen substitution may improve the development of external genitalia in some patients with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. Psychological follow-up is necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / deficiency*
  • Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome / complications*
  • Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Disorders of Sex Development / etiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Dysgenesis / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / complications
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis


  • Androgens
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase