Dihydrotestosterone: Biochemistry, Physiology, and Clinical Implications of Elevated Blood Levels

Endocr Rev. 2017 Jun 1;38(3):220-254. doi: 10.1210/er.2016-1067.


Benefits associated with lowered serum DHT levels after 5α-reductase inhibitor (5AR-I) therapy in men have contributed to a misconception that circulating DHT levels are an important stimulus for androgenic action in target tissues (e.g., prostate). Yet evidence from clinical studies indicates that intracellular concentrations of androgens (particularly in androgen-sensitive tissues) are essentially independent of circulating levels. To assess the clinical significance of modest elevations in serum DHT and the DHT/testosterone (T) ratio observed in response to common T replacement therapy, a comprehensive review of the published literature was performed to identify relevant data. Although the primary focus of this review is about DHT in men, we also provide a brief overview of DHT in women. The available published data are limited by the lack of large, well-controlled studies of long duration that are sufficiently powered to expose subtle safety signals. Nonetheless, the preponderance of available clinical data indicates that modest elevations in circulating levels of DHT in response to androgen therapy should not be of concern in clinical practice. Elevated DHT has not been associated with increased risk of prostate disease (e.g., cancer or benign hyperplasia) nor does it appear to have any systemic effects on cardiovascular disease safety parameters (including increased risk of polycythemia) beyond those commonly observed with available T preparations. Well-controlled, long-term studies of transdermal DHT preparations have failed to identify safety signals unique to markedly elevated circulating DHT concentrations or signals materially different from T.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Dihydrotestosterone* / blood
  • Dihydrotestosterone* / chemistry
  • Dihydrotestosterone* / metabolism
  • Dihydrotestosterone* / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostate / drug effects
  • Prostate / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Testosterone / pharmacology
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Testosterone