Spontaneous and GnRH-provoked gonadotropin secretion and testosterone response to human chorionic gonadotropin in adolescent boys with thalassaemia major and delayed puberty

A T Soliman, M M elZalabany, M Ragab, M Abdel Fattah, H Hassab, A D Rogol, B M Ansari
Journal of Tropical Pediatrics 2000, 46 (2): 79-85
To elucidate whether the cause of sexual maturation arrest in thalassaemia is of gonadal or pituitary etiology, 10 males with thalassaemia and delayed puberty and 10 with constitutional delay of growth and pubertal maturation (CSS) were extensively studied. Their spontaneous nocturnal gonadotropin secretion and gonadotropin response to intravenous 100 micrograms gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) were evaluated. Circulating testosterone concentration and clinical response were evaluated after 3 days, 4 weeks and 6 months of intramuscular administration of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) (2500 U/m2/dose). Thalassaemic boys had significantly lower circulating concentrations of testosterone compared to those with constitutional delay of growth and sexual maturation (CSS) at the same pubertal stage. Short- and long-term testosterone response to administrations of HCG was markedly decreased in thalassaemic boys. After 6 months of HCG administration 50 per cent (5/10) of the boys did not show significant testicular enlargement or genital changes. Despite the low circulating concentrations of testosterone, none of the patients had high basal or exaggerated gonadotropin response to gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) stimulation. Luteinizing hormone (LH) peak responses to GnRH were significantly lower as compared to controls. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) peak responses to GnRH did not differ among the two study groups. The mean nocturnal LH and FSH secretion was significantly decreased in all thalassaemic boys as compared to boys with CSS at the same pubertal stage (testicular volume). These data proved that hypogonadotropic hypogonadism is the main cause of delayed/failed puberty in adolescents with thalassaemia major. MRI studies revealed complete empty sella (n = 5), marked diminution of the pituitary size (n = 5), thinning of the pituitary stalk (n = 3) with its posterior displacement (n = 2), and evidence of iron deposition in the pituitary gland and midbrain (n = 8) in thalassaemic patients, denoting a high incidence of structural abnormalities (atrophy) of the pituitary gland. Moreover, in many of the thalassaemic boys, the defective testosterone response to long-term (6 months) HCG therapy denoted significant testicular atrophy and/or failure secondary to siderosis. It appears that testosterone replacement might be superior to HCG therapy in these patients. This therapy should be introduced at the proper time in these hypogonadal patients to induce their sexual development and to support their linear growth spurt and bone mineral accretion.

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