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Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are called gonadotropins because stimulate the gonads - in males, the testes, and in females, the ovaries. They are not necessary for life, but are essential for reproduction. These two hormones are secreted from cells in the anterior pituitary called gonadotrophs. Most gonadotrophs secrete only LH or FSH, but some appear to secrete both hormones.
As describef for thyroid-simulating hormone, LH and FSH are large glycoproteins composed of alpha and beta subunits. The alpha subunit is identical in all three of these anterior pituitary hormones, while the beta subunit is unique and endows each hormone with the ability to bind its own receptor.
In both sexes, LH stimulates secretion of sex steroids from the gonads. In the testes, LH binds to receptors on Leydig cells, stimulating synthesis and secretion of testosterone. Theca cells in the ovary respond to LH stimulation by secretion of testosterone, which is converted into estrogen by adjacent granulosa cells.
In females, ovulation of mature follicles on the ovary is induced by a large burst of LH secretion known as the preovulatory LH surge. Residual cells within ovulated follicles proliferate to form corpora lutea, which secrete the steroid hormones progesterone and estradiol. Progesterone is necessary for maintenance of pregnancy, and, in most mammals, LH is required for continued development and function of corpora lutea. The name luteinizing hormone derives from this effect of inducing luteinization of ovarian follicles.
As its name implies, FSH stimulates the maturation of ovarian follicles. Administration of FSH to humans and animals induces "superovulation", or development of more than the usual number of mature follicles and hence, an increased number of mature gametes.
FSH is also critical for sperm production. It supports the function of Sertoli cells, which in turn support many aspects of sperm cell maturation.