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J Androl. 2006 Jul-Aug;27(4):560-4. Epub 2006 Apr 1.

Inhibin-B levels in healthy young adult men and prepubertal boys: is obesity the cause for the contemporary decline in sperm count because of fewer Sertoli cells?

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Department of Medicine, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky 40202, USA.


Inhibin-B is a heterodimeric glycoprotein produced by Sertoli cells. Although inhibin-B levels are low when seminiferous tubules are damaged, studies in normal monkeys reveal that inhibin-B levels also correlate positively with Sertoli cell number. In this study, we measured inhibin-B levels in healthy young adult men aged 18-24 years and in prepubertal boys aged 5-9 years in relation to body mass index (BMI). Inhibin-B levels declined with increasing obesity in young adult men; values were 26% lower in men who were obese compared to normal-weight men. Sex hormone-binding globulin and total testosterone, but not free testosterone, were also lower with increasing BMI; serum follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels were unaffected by obesity. In prepubertal boys, by contrast, inhibin-B was unaffected by obesity. We propose that reduced levels of inhibin-B indicate that obese men have fewer Sertoli cells than men of normal weight. Moreover, normal values in obese prepubertal boys suggest that the effect of obesity on inhibin-B is established during puberty. Finally, because each Sertoli cell is thought to support a finite number of germ cells, fewer Sertoli cells in obesity may predispose to a lower sperm count in adulthood. We speculate that the escalating prevalence of obesity and insulin resistance among adolescents might negatively influence male reproductive function for the next generation.

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