Serum insulin-like factor 3 levels are reduced in former androgen users suggesting impaired Leydig cell capacity

Jon Jarløv Rasmussen, Jakob Albrethsen, Mikkel Nicklas Frandsen, Niels Jørgensen, Anders Juul, Caroline Kistorp

16 Citations (Scopus)


CONTEXT: Illicit use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) is frequently observed in men and is associated with subsequent testosterone deficiency although the long-term effect on gonadal function is still unclear. Serum insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3) has been suggested to be a superior biomarker of Leydig cell secretory capacity compared to testosterone.

OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to investigate serum INSL3 concentrations in AAS users.

METHODS: This community-based, cross-sectional study included men aged 18 to 50 years, involved in recreational strength training and allocated to 1 of 3 groups: never-AAS users as controls (n = 44), current (n = 46), or former AAS users (n = 42) with an average duration since AAS cessation of 32 (23 ; 45) months.

RESULTS: Serum INSL3 was lower in current AAS users and former AAS users than in controls, median (interquartile range), 0.04 µg/L (nondetectable [ND]-0.07 µg/L) and 0.39 µg/L (0.24-0.62 µg/L) vs 0.59 µg/L (0.45-0.72 µg/L), P less than .001. Former AAS users exhibited lower serum INSL3 levels than controls in a multivariable linear regression even after adjusting for serum total testosterone (TT) and other relevant confounders, (B) (95% CI), -0.16 µg/L (95% CI, -0.29 to -0.04 µg/L), P equal to .011. INSL3 and TT were not associated in the model, P equal to .821. Longer accumulated AAS duration (log2) was associated with lower serum INSL3 in former AAS users, (B) (95% CI), -0.08 (95% CI, -0.14 to -0.01), P equal to .022. Serum INSL3, but not inhibin B or testosterone, was associated with testicular size in a multivariate linear regression, (B) (95% CI); 4.7 (95% CI, 0.5 to 8.9), P equal to .030.

CONCLUSION: Serum INSL3 is reduced years following AAS cessation in men, independently of testosterone, suggesting persistently impaired Leydig cell capacity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)e2664-e2672
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2021


  • anabolic androgenic steroids
  • androgens
  • insulin-like factor 3
  • male hypogonadism
  • male infertility
  • testosterone


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