Gonadal suppression alters axillary steroid secretions in men, but does that affect olfactory social signaling?



Shah SIA, Wilson HCP, Abel PD, Wassersug RJ, Trebicky V, Fialova JT, Allen C, Adomat HH, Bell RH, Tomlinson Guns ES & Roberts SC (2021) Gonadal suppression alters axillary steroid secretions in men, but does that affect olfactory social signaling?. Journal of Men's Health, 17 (3), pp. 69-76.

Background and objective: Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists (LHRHa) suppress gonadal hormone production and are commonly used to treat prostate cancer (PC) in men and conditions ranging from uterine fibroids to estrogen-sensitive cancers in women. They are also used to delay sexual development in children considering gender reassignment or experiencing premature puberty. As chemically castrating agents, LHRHa may affect cutaneous steroid secretions, which, in turn, could alter body odor and influence the psycho-sexual dynamics between individuals. The objectives of the present study were to determine (1) if LHRHa indeed alter cutaneous skin secretions, and (2) whether this leads to perceivable changes in body odor. Material and methods: Axillary skin secretions were collected on new cotton T-shirts worn by men undergoing androgen deprivation therapy with an LHRHa to treat PC (n = 10), both before starting the LHRHa and 3 months later. Healthy heterosexual university students (50 males, 50 females) were recruited to smell and rate the shirts for their masculinity, attractiveness, and intensity of odor. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) was also used to analyze steroids extracted from the shirt samples. Results: LC-MS showed a statistically significant decline in the concentration of the androgenic metabolites, androsterone and 5α-androstane-3,17-dione. This confirms that LHRHa drugs that suppress gonadal hormone production markedly reduce cutaneous secretion of androgenic metabolic intermediates in adult males. However, no differences in odor were detected in the ratings of the shirts by male, female, nor male and female raters combined for any of the three variables assessed. Possible reasons why the human sniffers failed to perceive a change in odor are explored. Conclusion: Our data document that LHRHa alter steroid skin secretions in older men, but whether such changes alter the olfactory signals that might influence psychosocial interactions remains unresolved.

Prostate cancer; Androgen deprivation therapy; Scent; Olfaction; Social implications

Journal of Men's Health: Volume 17, Issue 3

Publication date31/07/2021
Publication date online07/07/2021
Date accepted by journal21/03/2021

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Professor Craig Roberts

Professor Craig Roberts

Professor of Social Psychology, Psychology