Endocrine Regulation of Reproduction

The functions of the testes and ovaries are regulated by gonadotropic hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary. The gonadotropic hormones stimulate the gonads to secrete their sex steroid hormones, and these steroid hormones, in turn, have an inhibitory effect on the secretion of the gonadotropic hormones. This interaction between the anterior pituitary and the gonads forms a negative feedback loop.

The embryonic testes during the first trimester of pregnancy are active endocrine glands, secreting the high amounts of testosterone needed to masculinize the male embryo's external genitalia and accessory sex organs. Ovaries, by contrast, do not mature until the third trimester of pregnancy. Testosterone secretion in the male fetus declines during the second trimester of pregnancy, however, so that the gonads of both sexes are relatively inactive at the time of birth.

Before puberty, there are equally low blood concentrations of sex steroids—androgens and estrogens—in both males and females. Apparently, this is not due to deficiencies in the ability of the gonads to produce these hormones, but rather to lack of sufficient stimulation. During puberty, the gonads secrete increased amounts of sex steroid hormones as a result of increased stimulation by gonadotropic hormones from the anterior pituitary.

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