In the genetic male, mutations of the androgen receptor (AR) gene cause phenotypes ranging from female to subfertile male. Binding assays on genital skin fibroblasts and DNA analysis alone provide incomplete information about receptor function. We used the sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) response to stanozolol as a measure of AR function and correlated the results with phenotypes which were classified according to the degree of defective masculinization. Of the 34 patients investigated, 9 had complete, and 14 had partial androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) with predominantly female, ambiguous, or predominantly male phenotype. Eleven subjects served as controls. Mutations were characterized using polymerase chain reaction-single strand conformation polymorphism analysis and direct DNA sequencing. DNA analysis revealed two major deletions, two minor defects leading to premature stop codons in exon 1, and 19 point mutations in the DNA- and hormone-binding domains of the AR gene. After stanozolol, SHBG remained unchanged in patients with complete AIS (102.0 +/- 3.8 [SE]%; range 92.4%-129% of the initial value). The SHBG decrease was diminished in partial AIS with predominantly female (83.8% +/- 1.7%; range 81.3%-87.0%), ambiguous (80.4% +/- 4.4%, range 68.4%-89.1%), and predominantly male (mean 65.9% +/- 4.9%, range 48.6%-80.8%) phenotypes, and normal in controls (51.4% +/- 2.1%, range 35.6%-62.1%). Differences between controls and each AIS group were statistically significant (P < 0.05 - < 0.0001). A close correlation was found between the degree of undermasculinization (AIS phenotype) and the SHBG response.
Conclusions: The SHBG test provides functional information about the severity of the receptor defect in vivo and hence adds to the structural information provided by DNA analysis. It detects receptor defects due to mutations within the entire gene, including the DNA-binding domain, and is a rapid, simple, and cost effective procedure. It may provide useful information for the diagnosis and management of affected children.