Hormonal Control of Reproduction

The human male and female reproductive cycles are controlled by the interaction of hormones from the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary with hormones from reproductive tissues and organs. In both sexes, the hypothalamus monitors and causes the release of hormones from the anterior pituitary gland. When the reproductive hormone is required, the hypothalamus sends a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the anterior pituitary. This causes the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary into the blood. Although these hormones are named after their functions in female reproduction, they are produced in both sexes and play important roles in controlling reproduction. Other hormones have specific functions in the male and female reproductive systems.

Male Hormones

At the onset of puberty, the hypothalamus causes the release of FSH and LH into the male system for the first time. FSH enters the testes and stimulates the Sertoli cells located in the walls of the seminiferous tubules to begin promoting spermatogenesis (Figure 13.16). LH also enters the testes and stimulates the interstitial cells of Leydig, located in between the walls of the seminiferous tubules, to make and release testosterone into the testes and the blood.

Testosterone stimulates spermatogenesis. This hormone is also responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics that develop in the male during adolescence. The secondary sex characteristics in males include a deepening of the voice, the growth of facial, axillary, and pubic hair, an increase in muscle bulk, and the beginnings of the sex drive.

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Figure 13.16 Hormones control sperm production in a negative feedback system.

A negative feedback system occurs in the male with rising levels of testosterone acting on the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH, FSH, and LH. In addition, the Sertoli cells produce the hormone inhibin, which is released into the blood when the sperm count is too high. This inhibits the release of GnRH and FSH, which will cause spermatogenesis to slow down. If the sperm count reaches a low of 20 million/mL, the Sertoli cells cease the release of inhibin, and the sperm count increases.

Female Hormones

The control of reproduction in females is more complex. The female reproductive cycle is divided into the ovarian cycle and the menstrual cycle. The ovarian cycle governs the preparation of endocrine tissues and release of eggs, while the menstrual cycle governs the preparation and maintenance of the uterine lining (Figure 13.17). These cycles are coordinated over a 22–32 day cycle, with an average length of 28 days.

As with the male, the GnRH from the hypothalamus causes the release of the hormones FSH and LH from the anterior pituitary. In addition, estrogen and progesterone are released from the developing follicles. As with testosterone in males, estrogen is responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics of females. These include breast development, flaring of the hips, and a shorter period for bone growth.

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