Timing of puberty in relation to semen characteristics, testicular volume, and reproductive hormones: a cohort study

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Objective: To investigate whether the timing of puberty is associated with semen characteristics, testicular volume, and reproductive hormone levels. Design: Cohort study. Setting: Not applicable. Patients: The Danish National Birth Cohort and its subcohort, the Fetal Programming of Semen Quality cohort of 1,058 young men. Intervention(s): Self-reported information on the timing (younger, same age, older than peers) of the pubertal markers: voice break (primary exposure), pubic hair growth, regular shaving, and axillary hair growth. Main Outcome Measures(s): We estimated the relative differences with 95% confidence intervals for semen characteristics (semen volume, sperm concentration, total sperm count, sperm motility, percentage of morphologically normal spermatozoa), testicular volume, and reproductive hormones (follicle stimulating hormone [FSH], luteinizing hormone, sex hormone-binding globulin [SHBG], testosterone, estradiol, and free androgen index [FAI]) obtained at a median age of 19.2 years according to timing of pubertal development. Result(s): Compared with men reporting voice break “same age as peers,” men reporting voice break “older than peers” tended to have lower total sperm count (-12% [-25%, 4%]) and lower percent morphologically normal spermatozoa (-10% [-20%, 2%]), whereas men reporting voice break “younger than peers” tended to have a lower proportion of nonprogressive and immotile spermatozoa (-6% [-13%, 1%]) and larger testicular volume (7% [1%, 13%]). The pattern was less consistent for the other pubertal markers. For reproductive hormones, voice break “older than peers” tended to have higher FSH levels (24% [-1%, 55%]), higher SHBG levels (7% [0, 15%]), lower estradiol levels (-14% [-23%, -5%]), and lower FAI (-8% [-14%, -1%]), whereas voice break “younger than peers” tended to have higher luteinizing hormone levels (4% [-2%, 11%]), higher testosterone levels (5% [0%, 11%]), higher estradiol levels (17% [6%, 29%]), and higher FAI (4% [-2%, 11%]). When the categorical pubertal markers were analyzed as a linear term to assess dose dependence, older age at pubertal development was associated with higher FSH levels, higher SHBG levels, lower testosterone levels, lower estradiol levels, and lower FAI for most pubertal markers. Conclusion(s): These results lend weak support to the hypothesis that older age at pubertal development is associated with markers of reduced male fecundity, especially reproductive hormone levels, although associations with semen characteristics and testicular volume were statistically insignificant.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFertility and Sterility
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)823-833
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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© 2023 The Authors

    Research areas

  • cohort study, Puberty, reproductive hormones, semen quality, testicular volume

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