An FSH receptor is part of a hormonal family called glycoproteins that plays a key role in the human reproductive process. Only three types of cells contain FSH receptors on their membranes. These are the Sertoli cells of the testis, granulosa cells of the ovary, and epithelial cells of cancerous tumors. FSH receptors are designed to interface with FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), which then stimulates the follicles to develop in the ovaries and the Sertoli cells to begin spermatogenesis. Simply put, the FSH receptor allows the processes to develop that lead to the production of human sex gametes.
In females, certain gonadotropins, or hormones necessary for gonad production, are required for the reproductive process to work properly and for an ovary to release an egg. Luteinizing hormone (LH), FSH, estrogen, and progesterone are all necessary for the follicle to develop. FSH attaches to the FSH receptor in the membranes of follicular cells and aligns itself into a particular configuration that will transmit signals that activate G protein. When G protein leaves the FSH receptor, it allows hormonal messages to transmit between cells. This leads to the production of the ovarian follicle, the production of estrogen, and LH to surge.
If there are not enough FSH receptors to do the job, fertility can suffer. Genetic defects can cause either too few or too many FSH receptors to be produced and prevent the follicle from developing. In fact, it is the LH surge that is caused after the FSH receptor releases its hormonal messages that commercial fertility tests are able to detect. FSH receptors are part of a delicate fertility chain that requires each piece to work perfectly in order for the next step in the process to occur.
In the male, a similar process happens when FSH aligns itself with FSH receptors. FSH causes Sertoli cells to produce androgen-binding proteins that stimulate the production of sperm cells and regulate further production of FSH. As in females, the presence of too few FSH receptors can cause an inability to produce enough sperm for conception to occur.
One of the most exciting developments in cancer research has been the discovery of FSH receptors in all cancerous tumors studied so far. This is true for all stages and grades of cancerous tumors. Experts believe that FSH receptors aid in angiogenesis, or growth of new blood vessels, that feed cancer cells. This discovery has led some to believe that it may be possible to control or even cure cancer in the future by developing medications that inhibit the signaling abilities of these FSH receptors, thereby cutting off the blood supply of tumors and starving cancer to death.