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Abstract

Volume 16, Issue 2 (March 2014) 16, 161–168; 10.4103/1008-682X.122358

Testosterone deficiency: a historical perspective

Eberhard Nieschlag, Susan Nieschlag

1Center of Reproductive Medicine and Andrology, University Hospital of Münster, Münster, Germany; 2Center of Excellence in Genomic Medicine Research, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Correspondence: Eberhard Nieschlag

Abstract

The biological effects of the testes and testosterone are known since antiquity. Aristotle knew the effects of castration and his hypothesis on fertilization is one of the first scientific encounters in reproductive biology. Over centuries, castration has been performed as punishment and to produce obedient slaves, but also to preserve the soprano voices of prepubertal boys. The Chinese imperial (and other oriental) courts employed castrates as overseers in harems who often obtained high-ranking political positions. The era of testis transplantation and organotherapy was initiated by John Hunter in London who transplanted testes into capons in 1786. The intention of his experiments was to prove the 'vital principle' as the basis for modern transplantation medicine, but Hunter did not consider endocrine aspects. Arnold Adolph Berthold postulated internal secretion from his testicular transplantation experiments in 1849 in Göttingen and is thus considered the father of endocrinology. Following his observations, testicular preparations were used for therapy, popularized by self-experiments by Charles-Edouard Brown-Séquard in Paris (1889), which can at best have placebo effects. In the 1920s Sergio Voronoff transplanted testes from animals to men, but their effectiveness was disproved. Today testicular transplantation is being refined by stem cell research and germ cell transplantation. Modern androgen therapy started in 1935 when Enrest Lacquer isolated testosterone from bull testes in Amsterdam. In the same year testosterone was chemically synthesized independently by Adolf Butenandt in Göttingen and Leopold Ruzicka in Basel. Since testosterone was ineffective orally it was either compressed into subcutaneous pellets or was used orally as 17α-methyl testosterone, now obsolete because of liver toxicity. The early phases of testosterone treatment coincide with the first description of the most prominent syndromes of hypogonadism by Klinefelter, by Kallmann, DelCastillo and Pasqualini. In the 1950s longer-acting injectable testosterone enanthate became the preferred therapeutic modality. In the 1950s and 1960s, research concentrated on the chemical modification of androgens in order to emphasize their anabolic effects. Although anabolic steroids have largely disappeared from clinical medicine, they continue to live an illegal life for doping in athletics. In the 1970s the orally effective testosterone undecanoate was added to the spectrum of preparations. Recent transdermal gels and long-acting injectable preparations provide options for physiological testosterone substitution therapy.

Keywords: castration; testosteron; testosterone deficiency

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