In an effort to elucidate the aetiology of female-to-male transsexualism (FM-TS) 12 out of an annual sample of 16 untreated female-to-male transsexuals (FMT), aged 19 years 7 months (19;7) to 44 years 8 months (44;8) [median age (M) 27;5] were assessed by means of sexual-medical questionnaires, physical and endocrinological examination. The control group consisted of 15 healthy women (CF), aged 19 years 2 months (19;2) to 36 years 1 month (36;1) (M 22;7) without gender identity disorder, who were not under hormonal medication (including contraceptives). Baseline levels of testosterone (T; ng/dl), androstenedione (A4; ng/dl), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS; ng/ml), luteinizing hormone (LH; IU/l), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH; IU/l), and sex-hormone binding globuline (SHBG; microgram/dl) were measured. A standard single-dose ACTH stimulation test (250 micrograms ACTH IV; Synacthen) was performed with all subjects. Aldosterone (ALDO), corticosterone (B), deoxycorticosterone (DOC), progesterone (PROG), 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17OHP), 11-deoxycortisol (S), cortisol (F), cortisone (E), pregnenolone (PREG) and 17-hydroxypregnenolone (OHPREG) were assessed before and 60 min after ACTH stimulation. Transvaginal ultrasound was performed in nine out of 12 FMT (20;11 to 44;8, M 27;5; m 29.1 +/- 7.5) but not in CF. Results showed that 10 FMT (83.3%) and five CF (33.3%) were above normal values for at least one of the measured androgens. Baseline levels of T and A4 were significantly higher in FMT than in CF (T: 54.0 +/- 13.8 vs. 41.1 +/- 12.8; A4: 244.8 +/- 73.0 vs. 190.5 +/- 49.3; p < .05), whereas DHEAS, SHBG, LH and FSH did not differ between the groups. Unbound T (T/SHBG ratio) was higher in FMT (72.0 +/- 67.6) than in CF (26.4 +/- 15.1). Baseline levels of 17OHP, OHPREG and DOC were higher in FMT than in CF (p < .05). After ACTH stimulation 17OHP and OHPREG remained higher in FMT than in CF (p < .05). Single case analysis of ACTH stimulation test together with physical examination revealed symptoms for non-classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (NC-CAH) in six FMT (50%) and two CF (13.3%). Eight out of nine FMT who were assessed by means of transvaginal ultrasound (i.e. 88.9%; 50.0% of 16) had polycystic ovaries (PCO). Oligomenorrhoea or menstrual dysregularities (81.7% of 16 FMT vs. 0% of CF), hirsutism (56.2% of 16 FMT vs. 13.3% of 15 CF) and adiposity (25.0% vs. 0%) were frequent in FMT, but not in CF. Hyperandrogenism with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and adrenocortical hyperresponsiveness to ACTH seems to be a common finding in FMT. This offers support for a hormonal factor in the genesis of FM-TS. Because the prevalence of PCOS and NC-CAH in the female population is higher than FM-TS, the true nature of this factor and its interaction with environmental influences remains unknown.