To evaluate the effects of obesity on the hypothalamo-pituitary-testicular axis, we compared total and free (FT) testosterone (T), androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone and its sulfate, and 5 alpha-androstane-3 alpha, 17 beta-diol glucuronide, and estradiol levels in a group of 35 obese [body mass index (BMI), > 30] men (aged 17-61 yr) to levels in a nonobese control group. We observed a highly significant negative correlation (P < 0.001) between plasma (F)T levels and BMI and a significant positive correlation (P < 0.01) between E2 levels and BMI. There were no differences between the obese and the nonobese men in levels of androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and 5 alpha-androstane-3 alpha, 17 beta-diol glucuronide. Insulin levels were significantly higher in obese men and were significantly (P < 0.02) correlated with the waist hip girth ratio. To evaluate the role of the hypothalamo-pituitary complex in the decreased (F)T levels in obese men, diurnal (0800-2000 h) LH pulsatility was studied in eight obese middle-aged men and eight age-matched controls. The pulsatility of plasma cortisol levels was also studied. Whereas LH pulse frequency was similar in the obese and control subjects, mean diurnal LH levels, mean diurnal LH pulse amplitude, and the sum of all diurnal LH pulse amplitudes and secretory masses were significantly lower in the obese than in the controls. Moreover, there was a highly significant correlation between the sum of LH pulse amplitudes and plasma (F)T levels. This decrease in LH pulse amplitude is not an isolated phenomenon of hypothalamo-pituitary dysfunction in obese men, because the pulse amplitude of plasma cortisol levels was also decreased. The decreased LH pulse amplitude together with the normal respond of Leydig cells to hCG stimulation reported in the literature suggest by inference that the decreased FT levels in obese men are the consequence of a hypogonadotropism. The decreased LH pulse amplitude and the decreased amplitude of cortisol pulses, and hence probably of ACTH pulses, point toward a general alteration of hypothalamo-pituitary function in obese men.