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October 2003

LE Magazine October 2003

Neuroendocrine aging in men. Andropause and somatopause.
Aging is accompanied by gradual but progressive reductions in the secretion of testosterone and growth hormone in men, and by alterations in body composition and functional capacity that, to some degree, undo the effects of puberty. Preventing or reversing these changes with the use of trophic factors, including androgens, growth hormone and growth hormone secretagogues, is an appealing prospect, but documenting the effectiveness of these interventions and their benefits and risks has proven to be a difficult undertaking that is far from complete. Small-scale clinical studies have shown that it is practicable to boost growth hormone and IGF-1 levels for periods of up to 12 months, and testosterone for up to 36 months, to reverse at least some age-related changes in body composition. Information regarding the effects of these interventions on strength, exercise capacity and the ability to perform activities of daily living is still sparse, and additional reports from recently completed or currently ongoing clinical trials will not provide sufficient data to make firm conclusions. From the limited information currently available, androgen supplementation may be of benefit in some men aged more than 65 years, particularly in men with low serum testosterone levels (< 2 ng/mL). In this group, supplemental androgen therapy would be expected to increase lean body mass, bone mass, and possibly strength. In older men with testosterone levels between 2 and 3.5 ng/mL, some benefit might result from androgen supplementation, but it is not yet clear whether the benefits outweigh the risks. For men in this category, one might consider a 6- to 12-month trial of therapy after a full discussion and explicit consent, followed by a reassessment of the value of ongoing treatment. The even more limited data on growth hormone or growth hormone secretagogue interventions in aging do not support their general clinical use in healthy older men. Growth hormone is much more expensive than testosterone and is not covered by insurance for off-label uses. Patients who persistently seek a trial of therapy should be encouraged to enroll in a study if one is locally available. All of the growth hormone studies reported to date have focused, generally for reasons of safety, on healthy and robust groups of older subjects, men in whom the need for intervention is least compelling and in whom the functional effects of treatment may be the most difficult to observe. Phase II studies of intermediate size and duration examining prefrail groups of elderly who are at greater risk for functional loss and who stand to benefit the most from either preventive or restorative interventions are underway but are limited to the intermediate outcomes of body composition, strength and function. Trials designed to assess clinically relevant final outcomes, such as falls, fractures, and institutionalization, are of necessity large-scale, long-term and expensive. Support for larger phase III studies of growth hormone is unlikely to be forthcoming until the phase II studies are completed and show further promise. A multicenter clinical trial of testosterone is currently being planned under the joint sponsorship of the National Institute on Aging, the Veterans Health Administration, and industry, aimed at assessing the effects of testosterone on the risk for falls and fractures. The results of this trial and other large clinical trials should help to better define the balance of benefits and risks of trophic factor intervention in normal older men.

Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2001 Sep;30(3):647-69

Estrogen production and action.

Estradiol production is most commonly thought of as an endocrine product of the ovary; however, there are many tissues that have the capacity to synthesize estrogens from androgen and to use estrogen in a paracrine or intracrine fashion. In addition, other organs such as the adipose tissue can contribute significantly to the circulating pool of estrogens. There is increasing evidence that in both men and women extraglandular production of C(18) steroids from C(19) precursors is important in normal physiology as well as in pathophysiologic states. The enzyme aromatase is found in a number of human tissues and cells, including ovarian granulosa cells, the placental syncytiotrophoblast, adipose and skin fibroblasts, bone, and the brain, and it locally catalyzes the conversion of C(19) steroids to estrogens. Aromatase expression in adipose tissue and possibly the skin primarily accounts for the extraglandular (peripheral) formation of estrogen and increases as a function of body weight and advancing age. Sufficient circulating levels of the biologically active estrogen estradiol can be produced as a result of extraglandular aromatization of androstenedione to estrone that is subsequently reduced to estradiol in peripheral tissues to cause uterine bleeding and endometrial hyperplasia and cancer in obese anovulatory or postmenopausal women. Extraglandular aromatase expression in adipose tissue and skin (via increasing circulating levels of estradiol) and bone (via increasing local estrogen concentrations) is of paramount importance in slowing the rate of postmenopausal bone loss. Moreover, excessive or inappropriate aromatase expression was demonstrated in adipose fibroblasts surrounding a breast carcinoma, endometriosis-derived stromal cells, and stromal cells in endometrial cancer, giving rise to increased local estrogen concentrations in these tissues. Whether systemically delivered or locally produced, elevated estrogen levels will promote the growth of these steroid-responsive tissues. Finally, local estrogen biosynthesis by aromatase activity in the brain may be important in the regulation of various cognitive and hypothalamic functions. The regulation of aromatase expression in human cells via alternatively used promoters, which can be activated or inhibited by various hormones, increases the complexity of estrogen biosynthesis in the human body. Aromatase expression is under the control of the classically located proximal promoter II in the ovary and a far distal promoter I.1 (40 kilobases upstream of the translation initiation site) in the placenta. In skin, the promoter is I.4. In adipose tissue, 2 other promoters (I.4 and I.3) located between I.1 and II are used in addition to the ovarian-type promoter II. In addition, promoter use in adipose fibroblasts switches between promoters II/I.3 and I.4 upon treatments of these cells with PGE(2) versus glucocorticoids plus cytokines. Moreover, the presence of a carcinoma in breast adipose tissue also causes a switch of promoter use from I.4 to II/I.3. Thus there can be complex mechanisms that regulate the extraglandular production of estrogen in a tissue-specific and state-specific fashion.

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001 Sep;45(3 Suppl):S116-24

Marked decline in serum concentrations of adrenal C19 sex steroid precursors and conjugated androgen metabolites during aging.
The present data show a dramatic decline in the circulating levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S), androst-5-ene-3 beta,17 beta-diol (5-diol), 5-diol-sulfate, 5-diol-fatty acid esters and androstenedione in both men and women between the ages of 20 to 80 years. In the 50- to 60-yr-old group, serum DHEA decreased by 74% and 70% from its peak values in 20- to 30-yr-old men and women, respectively. the serum concentrations of the conjugated metabolites of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), namely androsterone (ADT)-G, androstane-3 alpha,17 beta-diol (3 alpha-diol-G), androstane-3 beta,17 beta-diol (3 beta-diol-G), and ADT-sulfate are the most reliable parameters of the total androgen pool in both men and women, whereas serum testosterone and DHT can be used as markers of testicular secretion in men and interstitial ovarian secretion in women. The serum concentration of these various conjugated androgen metabolites decreased by 40.8% to 72.8% between the 20- to 30-year-old and 70- to 80-yr-old age groups in men and women, respectively, thus suggesting a parallel decrease in the total androgen pool with age. As estimated by measurement of the circulating levels of these conjugated metabolites of DHT, it is noteworthy that women produce approximately 66% of the total androgens found in men. In women, most of these androgens originate from the transformation of DHEA and DHEA-S into testosterone and DHT in peripheral intracrine tissues, whereas in men the testes and DHEA and DHEA-S provide approximately equal amounts of androgens at the age of 50 to 60 years. An additional potentially highly significant observation is that the majority of the marked decline in circulating adrenal C19 steroids and their resulting androgen metabolites takes place between the age groups of 20- to 30-yr olds and 50- to 60-yr-olds, with smaller changes are observed after the age of 60 yr.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997 Aug;82(8):2396-402

Measures of bioavailable serum testosterone and estradiol and their relationships with muscle strength, bone density and body composition in elderly men.
In the present cross-sectional study of 403 independently living elderly men, we tested the hypothesis that the decreases in bone mass, body composition, and muscle strength with age are related to the fall in circulating endogenous testosterone (T) and estrogen concentrations. We compared various measures of the level of bioactive androgen and estrogen to which tissues are exposed. After exclusion of subjects with severe mobility problems and signs of dementia, 403 healthy men (age, 73 to 94 year) were randomly selected from a population-based sample. Total T (TT), free T (FT), estrone (E1), estradiol (E2) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) were determined by RIA. Levels of non-SHBG-bound T (non-SHBG-T), FT (calc-FT), the TT/SHBG ratio, non-SHBG-bound E2, and free E2 were calculated. Physical characteristics of aging included muscle strength measured using dynamometry, total body bone mineral density (BMD), hip BMD, and body composition, including lean mass and fat mass, measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. In this population of healthy elderly men, calc-FT, non-SHBG-T, E1, and E2 (total, free, and non-SHBG bound) decreased significantly with age. T (total and non-SHBG-T) was positively related with muscle strength and total body BMD (for non-SHBG-T, respectively, beta = 1.93 +/- 0.52, P < 0.001 and beta = 0.011 +/- 0.002, P < 0.001). An inverse association existed between T and fat mass (beta = -0.53 +/- 0.15, P < 0.001). Non-SHBG-T and calc-FT were more strongly related to muscle strength, BMD, and fat mass than TT and were also significantly related to hip BMD. E1 and E2 were both positively, independently associated with BMD (for E2, beta = 0.21 +/- 0.08, P < 0.01). Non-SHBG-bound E2 was slightly strongly related to BMD than total E2. The positive relation between T and BMD was independent of E2. E1 and E2 were not related with muscle strength or body composition. In summary, bioavailable T, E1, total E2, and bioavailable E2 all decrease with age in healthy old men. In this cross-sectional study in healthy elderly men, non-SHBG-bound T seems to be the best parameter for serum levels of bioactive T, which seems to play a direct role in the various physiological changes that occur during aging. A positive relation with muscle strength and BMD and a negative relation with fat mass was found. In addition, both serum E1 and E2 seem to play a role in the age-related bone loss in elderly men, although the cross-sectional nature of the study precludes a definitive conclusion. Non-SHBG-bound E2 seems to be the best parameter of serum bioactive E2 in describing its positive relation with BMD.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000 Sep;85(9):3276-82

Low levels of endogenous androgens increase the risk of atherosclerosis in elderly men: the Rotterdam study.
In both men and women, circulating androgen levels decline with advancing age. Until now, results of several small studies on the relationship between endogenous androgen levels and atherosclerosis have been inconsistent. In the population-based Rotterdam Study, we investigated the association of levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and total and bioavailable testosterone with aortic atherosclerosis among 1,032 nonsmoking men and women aged 55 years and over. Aortic atherosclerosis was assessed by radiographic detection of calcified deposits in the abdominal aorta, which have been shown to reflect intimal atherosclerosis. Relative to men with levels of total and bioavailable testosterone in the lowest tertile, men with levels of these hormones in the highest tertile had age-adjusted relative risks of 0.4 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.2-0.9] and 0.2 (CI, 0.1-0.7), respectively, for the presence of severe aortic atherosclerosis. The corresponding relative risks for women were 3.7 (CI, 1.2-11.6) and 2.3 (CI, 0.7-7.8). Additional adjustment for cardiovascular disease risk factors did not materially affect the results in men, whereas in women the associations diluted. Men with levels of total and bioavailable testosterone in subsequent tertiles were also protected against progression of aortic atherosclerosis measured after 6.5 years (SD +/- 0.5 years) of follow-up (P for trend = 0.02). No clear association between levels of DHEAS and presence of severe aortic atherosclerosis was found, either in men or in women. In men, a protective effect of higher levels of DHEAS against progression of aortic atherosclerosis was suggested, but the corresponding test for trend did not reach statistical significance. In conclusion, we found an independent inverse association between levels of testosterone and aortic atherosclerosis in men. In women, positive associations between levels of testosterone and aortic atherosclerosis were largely due to adverse cardiovascular disease risk factors.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Aug;87(8):3632-9