Diverse roles for sex hormone-binding globulin in reproduction

Biol Reprod. 2011 Sep;85(3):431-41. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.111.092593. Epub 2011 May 25.


Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) transports androgens and estrogens in blood and regulates their access to target tissues. Hepatic production of SHBG fluctuates throughout the life cycle and is influenced primarily by metabolic and hormonal factors. Genetic differences also contribute to interindividual variations in plasma SHBG levels. In addition to controlling the plasma distribution, metabolic clearance, and bioavailability of sex steroids, SHBG accumulates in the extravascular compartments of some tissues and in the cytoplasm of specific epithelial cells, where it exerts novel effects on androgen and estrogen action. In mammals, the gene-encoding SHBG is expressed primarily in the liver but also at low levels in other tissues, including the testis. In subprimate species, Shbg expression in Sertoli cells is under the control of follicle-stimulating hormone and produces the androgen-binding protein that influences androgen actions in the seminiferous tubules and epididymis. In humans, the SHBG gene is not expressed in Sertoli cells, but its expression in germ cells produces an SHBG isoform that accumulates in the acrosome. In fish, Shbg is produced by the liver but has a unique function in the gill as a portal for natural steroids and xenobiotics, including synthetic steroids. However, salmon have retained a second, poorly conserved Shbg gene that is expressed only in ovary, muscle, and gill and that likely exerts specialized functions in these tissues. The present review compares the production and functions of SHBG in different species and its diverse effects on reproduction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Reproduction*
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / genetics
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity
  • Testis / metabolism


  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin