Critical androgen-sensitive periods of rat penis and clitoris development

M. Welsh, D. J. Macleod, M. Walker, L. B. Smith, R. M. Sharpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Androgen control of penis development/growth is unclear. In rats, androgen action in a foetal 'masculinisation programming window' (MPW; e15.5-e18.5)' predetermines penile length and hypospadias occurrence. This has implications for humans (e.g. micropenis). Our studies aimed to establish in rats when androgen action/administration affects development/growth of the penis and if deficits in MPW androgen action were rescuable postnatally. Thus, pregnant rats were treated with flutamide during the MPW +/- postnatal testosterone propionate (TP) treatment. To assess penile growth responsiveness, rats were treated with TP in various time windows (late foetal, neonatal through early puberty, puberty onset, or combinations thereof). Phallus length, weight, and morphology, hypospadias and anogenital distance (AGD) were measured in mid-puberty (d25) or adulthood (d90) in males and females, plus serum testosterone in adult males. MPW flutamide exposure reduced adult penile length and induced hypospadias dose-dependently; this was not rescued by postnatal TP treatment. In normal rats, foetal (e14.5-e21.5) TP exposure did not affect male penis size but increased female clitoral size. In males, TP exposure from postnatal d1-24 or at puberty (d15-24), increased penile length at d25, but not ultimately in adulthood. Foetal + postnatal TP (e14-postnatal d24) increased penile size at d25 but reduced it at d90 (due to reduced endogenous testosterone). In females, this treatment caused the biggest increase in adult clitoral size but, unlike in males, phallus size was unaffected by TP during puberty (d15-24). Postnatal TP treatment advanced penile histology at d25 to more resemble adult histology. AGD strongly correlated with final penis length. It is concluded that adult penile size depends critically on androgen action during the MPW but subsequent growth depends on later androgen exposure. Foetal and/or postnatal TP exposure does not increase adult penile size above its 'predetermined' length though its growth towards this maximum is advanced by peripubertal TP treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e144-e152
JournalInternational Journal of Andrology
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010

Keywords

  • androgens
  • clitoris
  • flutamide
  • hypospadis
  • masculinisation programming window
  • micropenis
  • penis length

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