Puberty is a period of several years in which rapid physical growth and psychological changes occur, culminating in sexual maturity. The average onset of puberty is age 11 or 12 for boys. Some of the most significant parts of pubertal development involve distinctive physiological changes in individuals' height, weight, body composition, and circulatory and respiratory systems. These changes are largely influenced by hormonal activity. Hormones play an organizational role, priming the body to behave in a certain way once puberty begins, and an activational role, referring to changes in hormones during adolescence that trigger behavioral and physical changes.
At the onset of puberty, the pituitary gland begins secreting high pulses of GnRH, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone. In response, the hypothalamus causes the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) into the male system for the first time. FSH enters the testes, stimulating the Sertoli cells, which help to nourish the sperm cells that the testes produce, to begin facilitating spermatogenesis. LH also enters the testes, stimulating the interstitial cells, called Leydig cells, to make and release testosterone into the testes and the blood.
Testosterone, the hormone responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics that develop in the male during adolescence, stimulates spermatogenesis, or the process of sperm production in the testes. Secondary sex characteristics include a deepening of the voice, the growth of facial, axillary, and pubic hair, and the beginnings of the sex drive.
A negative feedback system occurs in the male with rising levels of testosterone acting on the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH, FSH, and LH (Figure 1). The Sertoli cells produce the hormone inhibin, which is released into the blood when the sperm count is too high. This inhibits the release of GnRH and FSH, which will cause spermatogenesis to slow down. If the sperm count reaches 20 million/ml, the Sertoli cells cease the release of inhibin, allowing the sperm count to increase.