The development of gonadotropins for clinical use in the treatment of infertility

Bruno Lunenfeld, Wilma Bilger, Salvatore Longobardi, Veronica Alam, Thomas D'Hooghe, Sesh K. Sunkara

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    76 Scopus citations


    The first commercially available gonadotropin product was a human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) extract, followed by animal pituitary gonadotropin extracts. These extracts were effective, leading to the introduction of the two-step protocol, which involved ovarian stimulation using animal gonadotropins followed by ovulation triggering using hCG. However, ovarian response to animal gonadotropins was maintained for only a short period of time due to immune recognition. This prompted the development of human pituitary gonadotropins; however, supply problems, the risk for Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, and the advent of recombinant technology eventually led to the withdrawal of human pituitary gonadotropin from the market. Urinary human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG) preparations were also produced, with subsequent improvements in purification techniques enabling development of products with standardized proportions of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) activity. In 1962 the first reported pregnancy following ovulation stimulation with hMG and ovulation induction with hCG was described, and this product was later established as part of the standard protocol for ART. Improvements in immunopurification techniques enabled the removal of LH from hMG preparations; however, unidentified urinary protein contaminants remained a problem. Subsequently, monoclonal FSH antibodies were used to produce a highly purified FSH preparation containing <0.1 IU of LH activity and <5% unidentified urinary proteins, enabling the formulation of smaller injection volumes that could be administered subcutaneously rather than intramuscularly. Ongoing issues with gonadotropins derived from urine donations, including batch-to-batch variability and a finite donor supply, were overcome by the development of recombinant gonadotropin products. The first recombinant human FSH molecules received marketing approvals in 1995 (follitropin alfa) and 1996 (follitropin beta). These had superior purity and a more homogenous glycosylation pattern compared with urinary or pituitary FSH. Subsequently recombinant versions of LH and hCG have been developed, and biosimilar versions of follitropin alfa have received marketing authorization. More recent developments include a recombinant FSH produced using a human cell line, and a long-acting FSH preparation. These state of the art products are administered subcutaneously via pen injection devices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number429
    JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
    Issue numberJUL
    StatePublished - 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    Copyright © 2019 Lunenfeld, Bilger, Longobardi, Alam, D'Hooghe and Sunkara. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


    • Clinical
    • Fertility
    • Follicle stimulating hormone
    • Luteinizing hormone
    • Pre-clinical
    • Pregnancy
    • Recombinant gonadotropin


    Dive into the research topics of 'The development of gonadotropins for clinical use in the treatment of infertility'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this