Genetic Basis for Testosterone Levels Differs According to Sex

TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 2020 — The genetic determinants of testosterone levels differ between the sexes, according to a study published online Feb. 10 in Nature Medicine.

Katherine S. Ruth, Ph.D., from the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom, and colleagues examined genetic determinants of testosterone levels and related sex hormone traits among 425,097 U.K. Biobank study participants to understand its effects on disease outcomes.

Using 2,571 genome-wide significant associations, the researchers demonstrated that the genetic determinants of testosterone levels differ substantially between the sexes; for metabolic diseases, genetically higher testosterone was harmful in women but beneficial in men. For example, a genetically determined one-standard deviation higher testosterone level increased the risks for type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome in women (odds ratios, 1.37 and 1.51, respectively) but reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes in men (odds ratio, 0.86).

“Our findings provide unique insights into the disease impacts of testosterone. In particular, they emphasize the importance of considering men and women separately in studies, as we saw opposite effects for testosterone on diabetes,” Ruth said in a statement. “Caution is needed in using our results to justify use of testosterone supplements, until we can do similar studies of testosterone with other diseases, especially cardiovascular disease.”

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