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The gonadal hormones include the steroids of the ovary (estrogens and progestins) and testis (chiefly testosterone). Because of their extensive use as contraceptives and replacement therapy, many synthetic estrogens and progestins have been produced. Related agents include synthesis inhibitors, receptor antagonists, and some drugs with mixed effects (ie, agonist effects in some tissues and antagonist effects in other tissues). Mixed agonists with estrogenic effects are called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). Synthetic androgens, including those with anabolic activity, are also available for clinical use. A diverse group of drugs with antiandrogenic effects is used in the treatment of prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia in men and androgen excess in women. Some gonadal hormones are also produced in the adrenal cortex.



The ovary is the primary source of gonadal hormones in women during the childbearing years (ie, between puberty and menopause). When properly regulated by follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary, each menstrual cycle consists of the following events: A follicle in the ovary matures, secretes increasing amounts of estrogen, releases an ovum, and is transformed into a progesterone-secreting corpus luteum. If the ovum is not fertilized and implanted, the corpus luteum degenerates; the uterine endometrium, which has proliferated under the stimulation of estrogen and progesterone, is shed as part of the menstrual flow, and the cycle repeats. The mechanism of action of both estrogen and progesterone involves entry into cells, binding to cytosolic receptors, and translocation of the receptor–hormone dimer into the nucleus, where it modulates gene expression (see Figure 39–1).

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High-Yield Terms to Learn
5α-Reductase The enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT); it is inhibited by finasteride, a drug used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia and prevent male-pattern hair loss in men
Anabolic steroid Androgen receptor agonist used for anabolic effects (eg, weight gain, increased muscle mass)
Breakthrough bleeding Vaginal bleeding that occurs outside of the period of regular menstrual bleeding
Combined oral contraceptive (COC or OC) Hormonal contraceptive administered orally that contains an estrogen and a progestin
Hirsutism A male pattern of body hair growth (face, chest, abdomen) in females that results from hyperandrogenism
HRT Hormone replacement therapy refers to estrogen replacement for women who have lost ovarian function and usually involves combination therapy with estrogen and a progestin
SERM Selective estrogen receptor (ER) modulator, eg, tamoxifen, induces different effects in different tissues potentially due to binding different combinations of receptor dimers (ERα-ERα, ERα-ERβ, ERβ-ERβ)

A. Estrogens

The major ovarian estrogen in women is estradiol. Estradiol has low oral bioavailability but is available in a micronized form for oral use. It can also be administered via transdermal patch, vaginal cream, or intramuscular (IM) injection. Long-acting esters of estradiol that are converted in the body to estradiol (eg, estradiol cypionate) can be administered ...

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