A team led by Dr. Joel Finkelstein at Massachusetts General Hospital investigated testosterone and estradiol levels in 400 healthy men, 20 to 50 years of age. To control hormone levels, the researchers first gave the participants injections of a drug that suppressed their normal testosterone and estradiol production. The men were randomly assigned to 5 groups that received different amounts (from 0 to 10 grams) of a topical 1% testosterone gel daily for 16 weeks. Half of the participants were also given a drug to block testosterone from being converted to estradiol.
Intramuscular testosterone injections were first used around fifty years ago. Commercially available preparations contain testosterone esters in an oily vehicle. Esterification is designed to retard the release of testosterone from the depot site into the blood because the half life of unmodified testosterone would be very short. For many years intramuscular preparations were the most commonly used testosterone therapy and this is still the case in some centers. Pain can occur at injection sites, but the injections are generally well tolerated and free of major side effects. Until recently, the available intramuscular injections were designed for use at a frequency of between weekly and once every four weeks. These preparations are the cheapest mode of testosterone treatment available, but often cause supraphysiological testosterone levels in the days immediately following injection and/or low trough levels prior to the next injection during which time the symptoms of hypogonadism may return (Nieschlag et al 1976). More recently, a commercial preparation of testosterone undecanoate for intramuscular injection has become available. This has a much longer half life and produces testosterone levels in the physiological range throughout each treatment cycle (Schubert et al 2004). The usual dose frequency is once every three months. This is much more convenient for patients but does not allow prompt cessation of treatment if a contraindication to testosterone develops. The most common example of this would be prostate cancer and it has therefore been suggested that shorter acting testosterone preparations should preferably used for treating older patients (Nieschlag et al 2005). Similar considerations apply to the use of subcutaneous implants which take the form of cylindrical pellets injected under the skin of the abdominal wall and steadily release testosterone to provide physiological testosterone levels for up to six months. Problems also include pellet extrusion and infection (Handelsman et al 1997).
Two of the immediate metabolites of testosterone, 5α-DHT and estradiol, are biologically important and can be formed both in the liver and in extrahepatic tissues. Approximately 5 to 7% of testosterone is converted by 5α-reductase into 5α-DHT, with circulating levels of 5α-DHT about 10% of those of testosterone, and approximately 0.3% of testosterone is converted into estradiol by aromatase. 5α-Reductase is highly expressed in the male reproductive organs (including the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and epididymides), skin, hair follicles, and brain and aromatase is highly expressed in adipose tissue, bone, and the brain. As much as 90% of testosterone is converted into 5α-DHT in so-called androgenic tissues with high 5α-reductase expression, and due to the several-fold greater potency of 5α-DHT as an AR agonist relative to testosterone, it has been estimated that the effects of testosterone are potentiated 2- to 3-fold in such tissues.
Hypogonadism is a disease in which the body is unable to produce normal amounts of testosterone due to a problem with the testicles or with the pituitary gland that controls the testicles. Testosterone replacement therapy can improve the signs and symptoms of low testosterone in these men. Doctors may prescribe testosterone as injections, pellets, patches or gels.