Serum prostate specific antigen, sex hormone binding globulin and free androgen index as markers of pubertal development in boys

M R Kim, M K Gupta, S H Travers, D G Rogers, F Van Lente, C Faiman
Clinical Endocrinology 1999, 50 (2): 203-10

OBJECTIVE: Prostate specific antigen (PSA) expression in the prostate gland is regulated by androgens. Serum levels of PSA are undetectable by routine assays in normal boys. Measurable values could serve as a marker for pubertal development. In order to explore this question, we measured serum PSA levels in normal boys throughout puberty and examined the interrelationships with various hormonal and physical developmental changes.

DESIGN: Sera from 77 normal boys in Tanner stages I to V (T-I to T-V) were analysed for PSA levels by a sensitive time-resolved fluoro-immunometric assay (sensitivity: 0.012 microgram/l). In addition, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), insulin like growth factor I (IGF-I), IGF binding protein 3(IGFBP-3) and testosterone were measured.

RESULTS: PSA was detectable in 0% of Stage T-I (n = 16), 33% of T-II (n = 18), 65% of T-III (n = 17) and 100% of T-IV (n = 10) and T-V (n = 16) boys. PSA levels rose significantly according to stage (P < 0.05). Also, there were significant (P < 0.05) increments in serum testosterone, IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels from stages T-I to T-IV. PSA showed a positive correlation with testosterone (r = 0.86, P < 0.001), IGF-I (r = 0.66, P < 0.001), and IGFBP-3 (r = 0.34, P = 0.004) levels. Both PSA and these analytes, however, showed significant overlap between stages T-I and T-II with only 6/18 (33%) and 12/18 (66%) of T-II subjects having PSA and testosterone levels, respectively, above the T-I range. In contrast, serum SHBG levels decreased markedly from stages I to II (P < 0.001). At the calculated best cut-off point for SHBG of 50 nmol/l, 16/18 T-II subjects had values below the T-I range (sensitivity = 89%). Because of this decrement of SHBG and the increasing testosterone secretion in early puberty, the Free Androgen Index (FAI = Testosterone/SHBG) could even better differentiate the onset of puberty with all except one of the T-II subjects having FAI levels above the T-I range (sensitivity = 94.4%). The decrease of SHBG in T-II subjects coincided with an increase in total body weight (P = 0.001) and body mass index (BMI, P = 0.0003). Despite the continuing pubertal rise in testosterone, SHBG levels showed a rebound increment from T-II-T-III subjects (P = 0.02) with a concomitant decrease in BMI (P = 0.0014).

CONCLUSIONS: Prostate specific antigen closely reflects serum free androgen activity during puberty. However, it was unable to differentiate the earliest pubertal development. In comparison, SHBG levels and Free Androgen Index are more sensitive markers for the onset of puberty in boys. The inverse association between SHBG levels and BMI in pubertal stages Tanner stages, I to III suggests that body fatness, via its effect on insulin sensitivity, may play an important role in the regulation of SHBG production during early pubertal development.

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