Figure 24.14. LH also enters the testes and stimulates the interstitial cells of Leydig to make and release testosterone into the testes and the blood.

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Testosterone, the hormone responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics that develop in the male during adolescence, stimulates spermatogenesis. These secondary sex characteristics include a deepening of the voice, the growth of facial, axillary, and pubic hair, and the beginnings of the sex drive.

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Figure 24.14. Hormones control sperm production in a negative feedback system.
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Figure 24.15. The ovarian and menstrual cycles of female reproduction are regulated by hormones produced by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovaries.

Just prior to the middle of the cycle (approximately day 14), the high level of estrogen causes FSH and especially LH to rise rapidly, then fall. The spike in LH causes ovulation: the most mature follicle, like that shown in Figure 24.16, ruptures and releases its egg. The follicles that did not rupture degenerate and their eggs are lost. The level of estrogen decreases when the extra follicles degenerate.

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Figure 24.16. This mature egg follicle may rupture and release an egg. (credit: scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Following ovulation, the ovarian cycle enters its luteal phase, illustrated in Figure 24.15 and the menstrual cycle enters its secretory phase, both of which run from about day 15 to 28. The luteal and secretory phases refer to changes in the ruptured follicle. The cells in the follicle undergo physical changes and produce a structure called a corpus luteum. The corpus luteum produces estrogen and progesterone. The progesterone facilitates the regrowth of the uterine lining and inhibits the release of further FSH and LH. The uterus is being prepared to accept a fertilized egg, should it occur during this cycle. The inhibition of FSH and LH prevents any further eggs and follicles from developing, while the progesterone is elevated. The level of estrogen produced by the corpus luteum increases to a steady level for the next few days.

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If no fertilized egg is implanted into the uterus, the corpus luteum degenerates and the levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease. The endometrium begins to degenerate as the progesterone levels drop, initiating the next menstrual cycle. The decrease in progesterone also allows the hypothalamus to send GnRH to the anterior pituitary, releasing FSH and LH and starting the cycles again. Figure 24.17 visually compares the ovarian and uterine cycles as well as the commensurate hormone levels.


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Figure 24.17. Rising and falling hormone levels result in progression of the ovarian and menstrual cycles. (credit: modification of work by Mikael Häggström)