Glossary of Terms

ACTH: Adrenocorticotropic hormone. Produced by anterior lobe of pituitary, ACTH stimulates adrenal gland production of various hormones, including cortisol.

adrenal cortex: The outer layers of the adrenal gland, as contrasted with the core, or medulla. The cortex produces steroidal hormones, including cortisol and sex hormones.

adrenal gland: An endocrine gland located immediately above the kidney. The cortex produces a number of steroids, including cortisol, aldosterol, and weakly active sex hormones. The medulla produces adrenaline.

aldosterone: A hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex. The principal biological activity of aldosterone is the regulation of electrolyte and water balance by promoting the retention of sodium (and therefore of water) and the excretion of potassium.

ambiguous genitalia: See intersex genitalia. The term "ambiguous" is judgemental; it implies that all genitals must be unambiguously male or female.

androgen: A sex hormone produced chiefly by the testis, but also by the adrenal cortex and in small amounts by the ovary. The term "androgen" (Greek andros + gen) is a misnomer, as androgens are present in males and females. There are several related steroid hormones which are referred to as androgens.

aniage: pl. aniagen. Primordium; the first beginnings of an organ or part in the developing embryo.

Barr body: Spots which are visible in the stained nucleus of mammalian cells with more than one X chromosome. Attributed to inactivated second X chromosome. See buccal smear.

buccal smear: A test in which cells are scraped from inside the cheek (buccal) and smeared on a slide. The cells are then stained and viewed under a microscope. Ban" bodies are counted. Because the identification of Ban" bodies is prone to error, a large number of cells must be viewed and the Barr bodies counted. The buccal smear is a rough test for the presence of a second X chromosome, and is used as a quick and dirty test for genetic sex. It is simpler, cheaper, and faster than a complete karyotype, but provides far less information.

CAH: congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

chimera: An organism in which populations deriving from different zygotes are present.

chordee: A fixed curvature or binding down of the penis or hypertrophied clitoris by surrounding tissue.

chorion: Outermost of the fetal membranes. Forms fetal part of placenta.

chorionic gonadotropin: A hormone with properties similar to LH. Secreted in large amounts by placenta during gestation. Stimulates formation of interstitial cells in fetal testes and secretion of testosterone.

chromatin, sex: See Barr body.

clitoromegaly: Enlargement or hypertrophy of the clitoris.

clitoropenis: A term which describes the erectile tissue and glans in intersexed genitals. A very small penis, or a very large clitoris. Sometimes called a phallus in medical literature.

congenital adrenal hyperplasia:A genetically transmitted enzymatic defect which affects the functioning of the adrenal cortices. CAH arises in varying degrees, and results in deficiency of cortisol and aldosterone deficiency and excess adrenal androgen and adrenocorticotropin. Abnormal adrenal function begins before birth. In genetic females, the external genitals may be slightly, significantly, or totally virilized. In genetic males, premature virilizing puberty may occur. In severe cases, salt loss and dehydration lead to shock and death within a few days of birth. Treatment with cortisone can prevent salt loss and virilization.

cryptorchidism: A condition in which one or both testes are undescended into the scrotum.

DES: diethylstilbestrol. A synthetic drug which acts as a female sex hormone. Occasionally virilizes the genitals of genetic females.

dichotomy: Division into two exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups. The existence of intersexed individuals contradicts our cultural definition of sex as a male/female dichotomy.

dihydrotestosterone: An androgen formed from testosterone in peripheral target cells by the action of the enzyme Sa-reductase.

dimorphism: Having two forms or manifestations, though of the same species, as in a juvenile and adult form, or a male and female form.

dysgenesis: Defective development or malformation.

endogenous: Produced from within. E.g., hormones produced by an individual's gonads are endogenous.

epiphysis: Part of a bone formed from a secondary center of ossification, commonly found at the ends of long bones, usually wider than the shaft, and separated from the shaft during the period of growth by a cartilaginous disk. At puberty, the epiphyses close, preventing further increases in stature.

estradiol: The most biologically potent of the naturally occurring estrogens. Estradiol is produced in large amounts by the ovary between puberty and menopause, and in smaller amounts by the testis.

estrogen: A sex hormone produced chiefly by the ovary, but also by the adrenal cortex and testis. The term "estrogen" is derived from Greek roots, and implies that estrogens induce estrus. Since estrus is not present in humans, the term is unfortunate.

estrus: A period during which a female is sexually receptive, occurring cyclically at the ovulatory phase of the female sexual cycle. Estrus is not present in humans.

exogenous: Produced or induced from without. E.g., hormones administered orally or by injection are exogenous.

feminization: The induction or development of female sex characters.

gonad: A sex gland. An ovary, testis, ovo-testis, or streak gonad.

gynecomastia: Development of breast tissue in a male. May occur spontaneously, or as a result of exogenous hormones or drugs.

hermaphrodite: Although still in common use as a medical diagnosis, this Victorian term is considered stigmatizing. Use "intersex" instead.

hirsutism: Hairiness, especially excessive hairiness.

hypertrophy: An increase in the volume of an organ caused entirely by enlargement of existing cells.

hyperplasia: An abnormal increase in the volume of a tissue or organ caused by the formation and growth of new normal cells.

hypospadias: A condition in which the urinary opening is situated other than at the tip of the penis. The opening may be located anywhere along the underside of the penis, or behind the penis, in the female position. A very small infantile penis with complete hypospadias is identical to a large clitoris with a single orifice behind leading to both urethra and vagina (urogenital sinus).

iatrogenic: Inadvertently caused by medical intervention, as in intersex births caused by administration of DES or progestin to pregnant mothers.

idiopathic: Of unexplained origin.

inguinal: The region of the crease between the abdomen and the thigh.

intersex genitalia: External genitals which are not clearly male or female. Embryologically, it is not possible to develop a complete penis and scrotum together with a complete vagina and vulva. To characterize any person as having "two sets of genitals" is incorrect.

intersexuality: An intermingling, in varying degrees, of physical male and female characters, in a single individual, ususally as a result of atypical embryonic development. In fact, sex is a spectrum: remnants of wolffian ducts are present in phenotypic females, and of mullerian ducts in phenotypic males. Individuals characterized as "intersexed" simply exhibit a development that is less extremely male or female than most people.

karyotype: The chromosomal constitution of the cell nucleus. Also, a photomicrograph of chromosomes in a regular arrangement.

Klinefeltei's syndrome: A condition caused by a supernumerary X chromosomes in morphologic males. Usually associated with small penis, small testes, sterility, occasional gynecomastia. Karyotypes are 47,XXY, 48XXXY, etc. Secondary sex characteristics are weakly developed and do not respond well to treatment with exogenous androgens.

laparotomy: Surgical incision through! the abdominal wall for the purpose of examining the internal reproductive organs.

LH: (luteinizing hormone) A gonadotropin secreted from the pituitary gland which stimulates secretion of testosterone from the testis, and formation of the corpus luteum and secretion of progesterone.

masculinization: The induction or development of masculine sex characters.

menarche: The onset of menses.

micropenis: An extremely small penis (sometimes defined as 2.5 standard deviations below mean stretched length for age).

morphology: The form and structure of a particular organism, organ, tissue, or cell.

mosaic karyotype: An organism in which cells from a single zygote but with differing karyotypes are present.

Mullerian ducts: A pair of embryonic ducts which, in a phenotypic female, develop into the top third of the vagina, the cervix, the uterus, and the fallopian tubes. In a phenotypic male, these ducts regress by about 60 days after conception.

mullerian inhibiting factor (MIF): A hormone produced by fetal testes which causes mullerian ducts to atrophy. Vestiges of these ducts remain in phenotypic males.

penoclitoris: A term which describes the erectile tissue and glans in intersexed genitals. Avery small penis, or a very large clitoris. Sometimes called a phallus in medical literature.

phenotype: The outward, visible expression of the hereditarty constitution of an organism.

prepuce: The foreskin of the penis or the hood of the clitoris.

progesterone: A hormone produced by the corpus luteum in the ovary, and also by the placenta during pregnancy. Progesterone is converted in the body first to an androgen, then to an estrogen.

progestin: A synthetic form of progesterone. Once widely administered topregnant women, progestin occasionally virilizes the external genitals of genetic females.

pseudohermaphrodite: A Victorian term still used in medical literature to refer to an intersexed individual who has testes or ovaries, but not both. See true hermaphrodite." "Hermaphrodite" is a stigmatizing term.

puberty: The period during which the secondary sex characteristics begin to develop and the capability of sexual reproduction is attained. Feminizing puberty is marked by a broadening of the hips, development of the breasts, the appearance of pubic hair, and menarche. Virilizing puberty is marked by broadening of the shoulders, deepening of the voice, and the appearance of pubic and facial hair. Feminizing puberty usually occurs between age 11 and 13; virilizing puberty between 13 and 15.

reductionism: The practice of reducing causality that is complex and multivariate to a single or univariate cause.

stigmatize: To set some mark of disgrace or infamy upon.

teratogen: An agent or influence that causes physical defects in the developing embryo.

testosterone: A natural androgen, produced chiefly by the testes, from its precursor hormone, progesterone. In the ovary, testosterone is the precursor of estrogen.

true hermaphrodite: A Victorian term still used in medical literature to refer to an individual in whom both ovarian and testicular tissue are present, as ovary and testis, ovo-testes, ovary and ovo-testis, etc. "Hermaphrodite is a stigmatizing term.

Turner Syndrome: The absence or abnormality of one of the X chromosomes in a phenotypic female. Associated with short stature, ovarian failure, and a variety of morphological abnormalities.

virilization: See masculinization.

Wolffian ducts: A pair of embryonic ducts which, in a phenotypic male, develop into the epididymis, vas deferens, and seminal vessicles. In a phenotypic female, these ducts regress.