Testosterone metabolites differentially regulate obesogenesis and fat distribution

Mol Metab. 2021 Feb:44:101141. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2020.101141. Epub 2020 Dec 9.


Objective: Low testosterone in men (hypogonadism) is associated with obesity and type II diabetes. Testosterone replacement therapy has been shown to reverse these effects. However, the mechanisms by which testosterone regulates total fat mass, fat distribution, and metabolic health are unclear. In this study, we clarify the impact of hypogonadism on these parameters, as well as parse the role of testosterone from its downstream metabolites, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and estradiol, in the regulation of depot-specific adipose tissue mass.

Methods: To achieve this objective, we utilized mouse models of male hypogonadism coupled with hormone replacement therapy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), glucose tolerance tests, flow cytometry, and immunohistochemical techniques.

Results: We observed that castrated mice develop increased fat mass, reduced muscle mass, and impaired glucose metabolism compared with gonadally intact males. Interestingly, obesity is further accelerated in castrated mice fed a high-fat diet, suggesting hypogonadism increases susceptibility to obesogenesis when dietary consumption of fat is elevated. By performing hormone replacement therapy in castrated mice, we show that testosterone impedes visceral and subcutaneous fat mass expansion. Testosterone-derived estradiol selectively blocks visceral fat growth, and DHT selectively blocks the growth of subcutaneous fat. These effects are mediated by depot-specific alterations in adipocyte size. We also show that high-fat diet-induced adipogenesis is elevated in castrated mice and that this can be rescued by androgen treatment. Obesogenic adipogenesis is also elevated in mice where androgen receptor activity is inhibited.

Conclusions: These data indicate that hypogonadism impairs glucose metabolism and increases obesogenic fat mass expansion through adipocyte hypertrophy and adipogenesis. In addition, our findings highlight distinct roles for testosterone, DHT, and estradiol in the regulation of total fat mass and fat distribution and reveal that androgen signaling blocks obesogenic adipogenesis in vivo.

Keywords: Adipogenesis; Diabetes; Fat distribution; Obesity; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipogenesis / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Hypogonadism / metabolism*
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Obese
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Testosterone / metabolism*


  • Testosterone
  • Glucose