Background: Hypospadias is a common congenital malformation of the male external genitalia. Most cases have an unknown aetiology, which is probably a mix of monogenic and multifactorial forms, implicating both genes and environmental factors. This review summarizes current knowledge about the aetiology of hypospadias.
Methods: Pubmed was used to identify studies on hypospadias aetiology published between January 1995 and February 2011. Reference lists of the selected manuscripts were also searched to identify additional studies, including those published before 1995.
Results: The search provided 922 articles and 169 articles were selected for this review. Studies screening groups of patients with hypospadias for single gene defects found mutations in WT1, SF1, BMP4, BMP7, HOXA4, HOXB6, FGF8, FGFR2, AR, HSD3B2, SRD5A2, ATF3, MAMLD1, MID1 and BNC2. However, most investigators are convinced that single mutations do not cause the majority of isolated hypospadias cases. Indeed, associations were found with polymorphisms in FGF8, FGFR2, AR, HSD17B3, SRD5A2, ESR1, ESR2, ATF3, MAMLD1, DGKK, MID1, CYP1A1, GSTM1 and GSTT1. In addition, gene expression studies indentified CTGF, CYR61 and EGF as candidate genes. Environmental factors consistently implicated in hypospadias are low birthweight, maternal hypertension and pre-eclampsia, suggesting that placental insufficiency may play an important role in hypospadias aetiology. Exogenous endocrine-disrupting chemicals have the potential to induce hypospadias but it is unclear whether human exposure is high enough to exert this effect. Other environmental factors have also been associated with hypospadias but, for most, the results are inconsistent.
Conclusions: Although a number of contributors to the aetiology of hypospadias have been identified, the majority of risk factors remain unknown.