Sex hormone binding globulin: origin, function and clinical significance

Ann Clin Biochem. 1990 Nov;27 ( Pt 6):532-41. doi: 10.1177/000456329002700603.


Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a glycoprotein possessing high affinity binding for 17 beta-hydroxysteriod hormones such as testosterone and oestradiol. It is probably synthesized in the liver, plasma concentrations being regulated by, amongst other things, androgen/oestrogen balance, thyroid hormones, insulin and dietary factors, it is involved in transport of sex steroids in plasma and its concentration is a major factor regulating their distribution between the protein-bound and free states. Its detailed role in the delivery of hormones to target tissues is not yet clear. Plasma SHBG concentrations are affected by a number of different diseases, high values being found in hyperthyroidism, hypogonadism, androgen insensitivity and hepatic cirrhosis in men. Low concentrations are found in myxoedema, hyperprolactinaemia and syndromes of excessive androgen activity. Concentrations are also affected by drugs such as androgens, oestrogens, thyroid hormones and anti-convulsants. Measurement of SHBG is useful in the evaluation of mild disorders of androgen metabolism and enables identification of those women with hirsutism who are more likely to respond to oestrogen therapy. Testosterone:SHBG ratios correlate well with both measured and calculated values of free testosterone and help to discriminate subjects with excessive androgen activity from normal individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / blood
  • Biological Transport
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Hyperprolactinemia / diagnosis
  • Hyperprolactinemia / metabolism
  • Insulin / blood
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / physiology*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood


  • Androgens
  • Insulin
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Thyroid Hormones