Peculiar observations in measuring testosterone in women treated with oral contraceptives supplemented with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

A.C. Heijboer, Y. Zimmerman, T. de Boer, H.C. Bennink, M.A. Blankenstein

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Total testosterone is considered to be decreased during the use of combined oral contraceptives. There is, however, considerable concern about the quality of testosterone assays, especially at low levels. We aimed to confirm testosterone levels measured by direct radioimmunoassay in a recent clinical trial with a state-of-the-art LC-MSMS method.Surplus specimens with known testosterone levels collected during the study (Clinical Trial Registration number ISRCTN06414473) were reanalyzed with an LC-MSMS method. This method was compared to another LC-MSMS method that had shown to concur excellently to a reference method. Follow-up experiments were designed to explain the results.In contrast to our expectation, LC-MSMS measurements did not corroborate the data obtained by radioimmunoassay. Subsequent experiments showed that this could be attributed to a strong dependency of the radioimmunoassay on SHBG. Testosterone results (n=198) obtained by direct radioimmunoassay showed a negative correlation to SHBG levels (r=0.676; p. <. 0.001). By contrast, testosterone results obtained by LC-MSMS were not related to SHBG (r=0.100; NS).In conclusion, our results indicate that total testosterone measurements during oral contraceptive use are unreliable when performed with assays sensitive to the SHBG concentration. The discrepancy with the literature can most likely be explained by the sensitivity of the immunoassay used to SHBG. Given the sharp increase in SHBG during the use of many oral contraceptives, total testosterone may not decrease, whereas its bioavailability, estimated by free testosterone levels, will be diminished. Studies aiming at restoration of testosterone homeostasis during oral contraception need to take this into account. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-95
JournalClinica Chimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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