What is FSH?

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

We are going to discuss what FSH stands for and what it is. We will cover its function as well as where it is produced in the body. This lesson will also look into how the release of FSH is controlled.

Introduction to FSH

The abbreviation FSH stands for follicle-stimulating hormone. I'm sure you are familiar with what hormones are at this point in your life. You probably think of hair follicles when you hear the word follicle. Based on that, you may be thinking that this is something that might stimulate those hair follicles to grow. Well, we aren't talking about that kind of follicle. So, just what follicle are we talking about that this hormone stimulates? How does it stimulate follicles? Where does the hormone come from? These are questions that we are going to address below.

Follicle-Stimulating Hormone

FSH stimulates the release of hormones and the subsequent growth and development of the reproductive follicles. Since we are dealing with the reproductive system, the mechanism for how FSH works differs between males and females. Ladies first!

FSH is released from the brain and affects cells in the ovaries.
Diagram of FSH release in females

In females, a follicle in the ovaries is responsible for nurturing and ultimately releasing the egg during the process of ovulation. When FSH is released, more estrogen is secreted and this helps the follicle continue to develop. An FSH surge occurs halfway through a female's monthly cycle. This surge signals to the follicle that it should release even more estrogen and that the developing egg is about to be released.

FSH is released in the brain and affects cells in the testes.
FSH release in males

In males, FSH makes the Sertoli cells, the follicle simulated in males, release antigen-binding protein. It also stimulates sperm cell production, making the testes grow. The increase in antigen-binding protein causes an increase in testosterone, which helps the sperm cells to develop and mature.

FSH Release and Control

FSH is produced and released by the anterior pituitary gland. This release is not random and is dependent on the release of another hormone, GnRH. GnRH is gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone is released by the hypothalamus. An increase in GnRH release causes an increase in FSH release and vice versa. Inhibin is a hormone that sends a signal to the hypothalamus to decrease the release of FSH. Once FSH is no longer needed, then the Sertoli cells in males and the ovarian cells in females will release inhibin to stop the release of FSH.

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