Role of estrogen and androgen in pubertal skeletal physiology.
Since both estrogen and androgen are present in each sex, it has been difficult to discern the exact role that each sex steroid plays in skeletal physiology. However, studying clinical syndromes in which there is either only estrogen or androgen action has allowed us to gain insight into the unique role that each sex steroid plays in the growing skeleton. In complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) the only functional sex steroid receptor is that for estrogen. Effected XY females have a pubertal growth spurt that is typical of normal females, both in magnitude and timing. Individuals with AIS have a mild reduction in bone density but it is difficult to distinguish whether this is the result of androgen resistance or estrogen deficiency. These observations suggest that estrogen action only is sufficient to induce a normal pubertal growth spurt, epiphyseal maturation, and near normal bone mineral accretion in women. Until recently, the skeletal effects of estrogen were not thought to be of importance in the male. Conventional wisdom dictated that, in the male, testosterone mediated these skeletal changes. The notion that estrogen is of little importance in the male has been challenged by the recent discovery of two human syndromes in which estrogen action is lacking. In males with either estrogen resistance (inability to respond to circulating estrogen) or aromatase deficiency (inability to synthesize estradiol), as a result of the lack of estrogen action, a pubertal growth spurt does not appear to occur. Furthermore, complete epiphyseal maturation does not take place allowing for continued growth in adulthood and resultant tall stature. Finally normal bone mineral accretion does not take place resulting in severe osteoporosis. These findings indicate that estrogen plays a critical role in skeletal physiology of males as well as females.