Environmental effects on hormonal regulation of testicular descent

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2006 Dec;102(1-5):184-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2006.09.020. Epub 2006 Oct 17.


Regulation of testicular descent is hormonally regulated, but the reasons for maldescent remain unknown in most cases. The main regulatory hormones are Leydig cell-derived testosterone and insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3). Luteinizing hormone (LH) stimulates the secretion of these hormones, but the secretory responses to LH are different: INSL3 secretion increases slowly and may reflect the LH dependent differentiated status of Leydig cells, whereas testosterone response to LH is immediate. Testosterone contributes to the involution of the suspensory ligament and to the inguinoscrotal phase of the descent, while INSL3 acts mainly in transabdominal descent by stimulating the growth of the gubernaculum. INSL3 acts through a G-protein coupled receptor LGR8. In the absence of either INSL3 or LGR8 mice remain cryptorchid. In humans only few INSL3 mutations have been described, whereas LGR8 mutations may cause some cases of undescended testis. Similarly, androgen insensitivity or androgen deficiency can cause cryptorchidism. Estrogens have been shown to down regulate INSL3 and thereby cause maldescent. Thus, a reduced androgen-estrogen ratio may disturb testicular descent. Environmental effects changing the ratio can thereby influence cryptorchidism rate. Estrogens and anti-androgens cause cryptorchidism in experimental animals. In our cohort study we found higher LH/testosterone ratios in 3-month-old cryptorchid boys than in normal control boys, suggesting that cryptorchid testes are not cabable of normal hormone secretion without increased gonadotropin drive. This may be either the cause or consequence of cryptorchidism. Some phthalates act as anti-androgens and cause cryptorchidism in rodents. In our human material we found an association of a high phthalate exposure with a high LH/testosterone ratio. We hypothesize that an exposure to a mixture of chemicals with anti-androgenic or estrogenic properties (either their own activity or their effect on androgen-estrogen ratio) may be involved in cryptorchidism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environment*
  • Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Testis / drug effects
  • Testis / growth & development*


  • Hormones