Effects of testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin on lung function in males and females: a multivariable Mendelian Randomisation study

Thorax. 2024 May 20;79(6):564-572. doi: 10.1136/thorax-2023-220374.


Background: Observational studies suggest that total testosterone (TT) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) may have beneficial effects on lung function, but these findings might be spurious due to confounding and reverse causation. We addressed these limitations by using multivariable Mendelian randomisation (MVMR) to investigate the independent causal effects of TT and SHBG on lung function.

Methods: We first identified genetic instruments by performing genome-wide association analyses of TT and SHBG in the large UK Biobank, separately in males and females. We then assessed the independent effects of TT and SHBG on forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC) and FEV1/FVC using one-sample MVMR. We addressed pleiotropy, which could bias MVMR, using several methods that account for it. We performed subgroup MVMR analyses by obesity, physical activity and menopausal status, and assessed associations between TT and SHBG with lung function decline. Finally, we compared the MVMR results with those of observational analyses in the UK Biobank.

Findings: In the MVMR analyses, there was evidence of pleiotropy, but results were consistent when accounting for it. We found a strong beneficial effect of TT on FVC and FEV1 in both males and females, but a moderate detrimental effect of SHBG on FEV1 and FEV1/FVC in males only. Subgroup analyses suggested stronger effects of TT among obese and older males. The observational analyses, in line with previous studies, agreed with MRMV for TT, but not for SHBG.

Interpretation: These findings suggest that testosterone improves lung function in males and females, while SHBG has an opposite independent effect in males.

Keywords: COPD epidemiology; Respiratory Measurement.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin* / analysis
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin* / metabolism
  • Testosterone* / blood
  • United Kingdom
  • Vital Capacity