To determine if known androgenic hormone precursors for testosterone in the androgen pathway would be readily transformed to testosterone, eight male subjects [mean age 23.8 (SEM 3) years, bodymass 83.1 (SEM 8.7) kg, height 175.6 (SEM 8.5) cm] underwent a randomized, double- blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled oral treatment with 200 mg of 4- androstene-3,17-dione (delta 4), 4-androstene-3 beta,17 beta-diol (delta 4 Diol), and placebo (PL). The periods of study were separated by 7 days of washout. Blood was drawn at baseline and subsequently every 30 min for 90 min after treatment. Analysis revealed mean area- under-the-curve (AUC) serum delta 4 concentrations to be higher during delta 4 treatment [2177 (SEM 100) nmol.l-1] than delta 4Diol [900 (SEM 96) nmol.l-1] or PL [484 (SEM 82) nmol.l-1; P < 0.0001]. The delta 4 treatment also revealed a significant effect on total testosterone with a mean AUC [1632.5 (SEM 121) nmol.l-1] that was greater than PL [1418.5 (SEM 131) nmol.l-1; P < 0.05] but not significantly different from those observed after delta 4Diol treatment [1602.9 (SEM 119) nmol.l-1; P = 0.77]. Free testosterone concentrations followed a similar pattern where mean AUC for the delta 4 treatment [6114.0 (SEM 600) pmol.l-1] was greater than after PL [4974.6 (SEM 565) pmol.l-1; P < 0.06] but not significantly different from those observed after delta 4Diol [5632.0 (SEM 389) pmol.l-1; P = 0.48]. The appearance and apparent conversion to total and free testosterone over 90 min was stronger for the delta 4 treatment (r = 0.91, P < 0.045) than for delta 4Diol treatment (r = 0.69, NS) and negatively correlated for PL (r = -0.90, P < 0.02). These results would suggest that delta 4, and perhaps delta 4Diol, taken by month are capable of producing in vivo increases in testosterone concentrations in apparently healthy young men as has already been observed in women after treatment with delta 4.