Shifting the paradigm of testosterone and prostate cancer: the saturation model and the limits of androgen-dependent growth

Eur Urol. 2009 Feb;55(2):310-20. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2008.09.024. Epub 2008 Sep 24.


Context: The traditional belief that prostate cancer (PCa) growth is dependent on serum testosterone (T) level has been challenged by recent negative studies in noncastrated men.

Objective: To provide an improved framework for understanding the relationship of PCa to serum T level that is consistent with current evidence and is based on established biochemical principles of androgen action within the prostate.

Evidence acquisition: A literature search was performed of publications dating from 1941 to 2008 that addressed experimental and clinical effects of androgens on prostate growth. Review of studies investigating the prostatic effects of manipulation of androgen concentrations in human and animal studies, and in PCa cell lines.

Evidence synthesis: Prostate growth is exquisitely sensitive to variations in androgen concentrations at very low concentrations, but becomes insensitive to changes in androgen concentrations at higher levels. This pattern is consistent with the observation that androgens exert their prostatic effects primarily via binding to the androgen receptor (AR), and that maximal androgen-AR binding is achieved at serum T concentrations well below the physiologic range. A Saturation Model is proposed that accounts for the seemingly contradictory results in human PCa studies. Changes in serum T concentrations below the point of maximal androgen-AR binding will elicit substantial changes in PCa growth, as seen with castration, or with T administration to previously castrated men. In contrast, once maximal androgen-AR binding is reached the presence of additional androgen produces little further effect.

Conclusions: The evidence clearly indicates that there is a limit to the ability of androgens to stimulate PCa growth. A Saturation Model based on androgen-AR binding provides a satisfactory conceptual framework to account for the dramatic effects seen with castration as well as the minor impact of T administration in noncastrated men.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Hypogonadism / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Orchiectomy
  • Prostate / growth & development
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • Testosterone / metabolism
  • Testosterone / therapeutic use


  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Testosterone
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen