Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is a hormone synthesised and secreted by gonadotropes in the anterior pituitary gland. FSH and LH act synergistically in reproduction:
FSH is a glycoprotein. Each monomeric unit is a protein molecule with a sugar attached to it; two of these make the full, functional protein. Its structure is similar to those of LH, TSH, and hCG. The protein dimer contains 2 polypeptide units, labeled alpha and beta subunits. The alpha subunits of LH, FSH, TSH, and hCG are identical, and contain 92 amino acids. The beta subunits vary. FSH has a beta subunit of 118 amino acids (FSHB), which confers its specific biologic action and is responsible for interaction with the FSH-receptor. The sugar part of the hormone is composed of fucose, galactose, mannose, galactosamine, glucosamine, and sialic acid, the latter being critical for its biologic half-life. The half-life of FSH is 3-4 hours.
The gene for the alpha subunit is located on chromosome 6p21.1-23. It is expressed in different cell types. The gene for the FSH beta subunit is located on chromosome 11p13, and is expressed in gonadotropes of the pituitary cells, controlled by GnRH, inhibited by inhibin, and enhanced by activin.
FSH regulates the development, growth, pubertal maturation, and reproductive processes of the human body.
Like its partner, LH, FSH release at the pituitary gland is controlled by pulses of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Those pulses, in turn, are subject to the oestrogen feed-back from the gonads.
FSH levels are normally low during childhood and, in women, high after menopause.
High levels of Follicle-Stimulating Hormone are indicative of situations where the normal restricting feedback from the gonad is absent, leading to an unrestricted pituitary FSH production. Whereas this is normal in women leading up to and during postmenopause, it is abnormal during the reproductive years.
If the FSH level is high during the reproductive years, this may be a sign of:
Diminished secretion of FSH can result in failure of gonadal function (hypogonadism). This condition is typically manifest in males as failure in production of normal numbers of sperm. In females, cessation of reproductive cycles is commonly observed. Conditions with very low FSH secretions are:
FSH is available mixed with LH in the form of Pergonal or Menopur, and other more purified forms of urinary gonadotropins, as well as in a pure forms as recombinant FSH (Gonal F, Follistim). It is used commonly in infertility therapy to stimulate follicular development, notably in IVF therapy, as well as with interuterine insemination (IUI).
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