Steroidogenesis in the fetal testis and its susceptibility to disruption by exogenous compounds

Hayley M Scott, J Ian Mason, Richard M Sharpe

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Masculinization depends on adequate production of testosterone by the fetal testis within a specific "masculinization programming window." Disorders resulting from subtle deficiencies in this process are common in humans, and environmental exposures/lifestyle could contribute causally because common therapeutic and environmental compounds can affect steroidogenesis. This evidence derives mainly from rodent studies, but because there are major species differences in regulation of steroidogenesis in the fetal testis, this may not always be a guide to potential effects in the human. In addition to direct study of the effects of compounds on steroidogenesis, information also derives from study of masculinization disorders that result from mutations in genes in pathways regulating steroidogenesis. This review addresses this issue by critically reviewing the comparative timing of production and regulation of steroidogenesis in the fetal testis of humans and of rodents and its susceptibility to disruption; where there is limited information for the fetus, evidence from effects on steroidogenesis in the adult testis is considered. There are a number of fundamental regulatory differences between the human and rodent fetal testis, most notably in the importance of paracrine vs. endocrine drives during masculinization such that inactivating LH receptor mutations block masculinization in humans but not in rodents. Other large differences involve the steroidogenic response to estrogens and GnRH analogs and possibly phthalates, whereas for other compounds there may be differences in sensitivity to disruption (ketoconazole). This comparison identifies steroidogenic targets that are either vulnerable (mitochondrial cholesterol transport, CYP11A, CYP17) or not (cholesterol uptake) to chemical interference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-925
Number of pages43
JournalEndocrine Reviews
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


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