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O Hiort and PM Holterhus

Male sexual differentiation is the result of complex mechanisms involving developmental genetics and endocrinology. Formation of the bipotential gonads and subsequently the testes is dependent on a series of sex chromosome-linked and autosomal genes. The testes secrete both peptide and steroid hormones essential for the formation of internal and external genitalia. Hormone action is mediated via specific receptors, functioning as transcription regulators. Disruption of these genetic events leads to sexual dimorphism involving external and internal genitalia, and may also interfere with the development of other organs.

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J Pohlenz, W Ahrens and O Hiort

OBJECTIVE: To identify the molecular defect by which psychomotor retardation is caused in two brothers with congenital hypothyroidism who received adequate treatment with l-thyroxine. CASE REPORT: A six-year-old boy presented with psychomotor retardation and congenital primary hypothyroidism (CH). The patient had a normal blood thyrotrophin (TSH) level on neonatal screening, but low total serum thyroxine and triiodothyronine concentrations prompting thyroid hormone substitution shortly after birth. Nevertheless, psychomotor development was retarded and the patient underwent further investigation. Typical features of Albright's hereditary osteodystrophy (AHO) such as round face, obesity, and shortened 1st, 4th and 5th metacarpals were found. METHODS AND RESULTS: Further investigation confirmed AHO with pseudohypoparathyroidism (PHP) type Ia. The boy had a mild resistance to parathyroid hormone and a reduced adenylyl cyclase stimulating protein (Gsalpha) activity in erythrocytes. DNA analysis detected a new heterozygous mutation (L338N) in the Gsalpha protein (GNAS1) gene. This mutation was also present in the patient's brother who had similar features and was also treated with thyroid hormone because of CH, and in the phenotypically normal-looking mother who had a normal calcium metabolism but a reduced Gsalpha protein activity in erythrocytes suggestive of pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism. CONCLUSION: In patients with CH, in whom the neurological outcome is poor even under adequate thyroid hormone substitution, PHP Ia may be suspected, especially when symptoms of AHO are present.

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OJ Hellwinkel, A Muller, D Struve and O Hiort

OBJECTIVE: The regulation of the androgen receptor (AR) and 5 alpha-reductase II (5RII) gene in genital skin fibroblasts is of particular interest in understanding androgen-dependent embryonic formation of external male genitalia. DESIGN: Human genital skin fibroblasts from pre- and postpubertal male individuals (aged 5 months to 51 years) were incubated with testosterone and dihydrotestosterone under various conditions to study the regulation of AR and 5RII transcript concentrations dependent on androgen concentration and donor age. METHODS: A competitive reverse transcribed PCR (RT-PCR) protocol was designed to achieve simultaneous relative quantification (semi-quantification) of AR and 5RII mRNAs in standardized whole RNA samples from each donor. RESULTS: Concentrations of AR and 5RII mRNAs are not influenced by androgens in genital skin fibroblasts. Moreover, comparison of AR transcript concentrations in genital skin fibroblast cell lines revealed weak variations independent of donor age, while 5RII transcription exhibited clear individual differences with a declining tendency towards higher ages. CONCLUSIONS: The transcription of AR and 5RII is not directly regulated by testosterone or dihydrotestosterone in pre- or postpubertal human genital skin fibroblasts. However, donor age seems to play a role in gradual depression of 5RII transcription.

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SM Schutt, M Schumacher, PM Holterhus, S Felgenhauer and O Hiort

OBJECTIVE: X-linked hypophosphatemia (XLH) is characterized by low serum phosphorus, relative 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3) deficiency and rickets. It is caused by mutations in the phosphate-regulating gene with homologies to endopeptidases on the X chromosome (PHEX). The conventional treatment of XLH includes the administration of phosphate and calcitriol; however, treated patients usually present with a short stature. Therefore, additional coexistent defects, such as GH deficiency, are under debate. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Two male siblings presented with a disproportionate growth failure and rickets. Investigation of calcium and phosphate metabolism, molecular genetic analysis of the PHEX gene and GH function tests were initiated. RESULTS: Both patients showed typical clinical and biochemical signs of XLH. Molecular genetic analysis revealed a 747 CGA (Arg)-TGA (End) mutation in exon 22 of the PHEX gene, confirming XLH. Since treatment with phosphate and calcitriol alone failed to improve growth in both patients, the GH axis was examined and a partial GH deficiency was diagnosed in both cases. Almost 3 Years of additional therapy with recombinant human GH (rhGH) led to a significant improvement of height standard deviation scores (HtSDS). CONCLUSIONS: Poor growth in XLH may, in at least some patients, be aggravated by GH deficiency. Hence, GH deficiency should be considered in extremely poorly growing patients with XLH, because these patients are likely to benefit from rhGH therapy.

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A Richter-Unruh, E Korsch, O Hiort, P M Holterhus, A P Themmen and S A Wudy

Leydig cell hypoplasia (LCH) is a rare autosomal recessive condition that interferes with normal development of male external genitalia in 46,XY individuals and is caused by inactivating mutations of the LH receptor gene. The clinical and biochemical diagnostic parameters of LCH are not always specific and may therefore show significant overlap with other causes of insufficient testicular steroid biosynthesis. We have studied a 46,XY newborn with completely female external genitalia and palpable testes. Due to an increased basal serum ratio of androstenedione/testosterone, 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 3 (17β-HSD 3) deficiency was initially suspected. DNA analysis of the corresponding HSD17B3 gene, however, showed no abnormalities in the entire coding region. In contrast, direct sequencing of the LH receptor gene revealed a novel homozygous single nucleotide insertion in exon 11 (codon A589fs) producing a frame shift in the open reading frame predicting for premature termination of translation 17 amino acids downstream. From the genetic perspective, this mutation represents the first frame shift mutation in the LH receptor gene ever reported to date. From the clinical standpoint, LCH should always be considered in the differential diagnosis as steroid profiles may not be informative. Therefore, molecular genetic analysis should be warranted for androgen biosynthesis defects in all cases.

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L Audí, S F Ahmed, N Krone, M Cools, K McElreavey, P M Holterhus, A Greenfield, A Bashamboo, O Hiort, S A Wudy, R McGowan and the EU COST Action

The differential diagnosis of differences or disorders of sex development (DSD) belongs to the most complex fields in medicine. It requires a multidisciplinary team conducting a synoptic and complementary approach consisting of thorough clinical, hormonal and genetic workups. This position paper of EU COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action BM1303 ‘DSDnet’ was written by leading experts in the field and focuses on current best practice in genetic diagnosis in DSD patients. Ascertainment of the karyotpye defines one of the three major diagnostic DSD subclasses and is therefore the mandatory initial step. Subsequently, further analyses comprise molecular studies of monogenic DSD causes or analysis of copy number variations (CNV) or both. Panels of candidate genes provide rapid and reliable results. Whole exome and genome sequencing (WES and WGS) represent valuable methodological developments that are currently in the transition from basic science to clinical routine service in the field of DSD. However, in addition to covering known DSD candidate genes, WES and WGS help to identify novel genetic causes for DSD. Diagnostic interpretation must be performed with utmost caution and needs careful scientific validation in each DSD case.

Open access

A Kulle, N Krone, P M Holterhus, G Schuler, R F Greaves, A Juul, Y B de Rijke, M F Hartmann, A Saba, O Hiort, S A Wudy and on behalf of the EU COST Action

Disorders or differences in sex development (DSD) comprise a heterogeneous group of conditions with an atypical sex development. For optimal diagnosis, highly specialised laboratory analyses are required across European countries. Working group 3 of EU COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action BM 1303 ‘DSDnet’ ‘Harmonisation of Laboratory Assessment’ has developed recommendations on laboratory assessment for DSD regarding the use of technologies and analytes to be investigated. This position paper on steroid hormone analysis in diagnosis and treatment of DSD was compiled by a group of specialists in DSD and/or hormonal analysis, either from participating European countries or international partner countries. The topics discussed comprised analytical methods (immunoassay/mass spectrometry-based methods), matrices (urine/serum/saliva) and harmonisation of laboratory tests. The following positions were agreed upon: support of the appropriate use of immunoassay- and mass spectrometry-based methods for diagnosis and monitoring of DSD. Serum/plasma and urine are established matrices for analysis. Laboratories performing analyses for DSD need to operate within a quality framework and actively engage in harmonisation processes so that results and their interpretation are the same irrespective of the laboratory they are performed in. Participation in activities of peer comparison such as sample exchange or when available subscribing to a relevant external quality assurance program should be achieved. The ultimate aim of the guidelines is the implementation of clinical standards for diagnosis and appropriate treatment of DSD to achieve the best outcome for patients, no matter where patients are investigated or managed.

Open access

S R Ali, J Bryce, M Cools, M Korbonits, J G Beun, D Taruscio, T Danne, M Dattani, O M Dekkers, A Linglart, I Netchine, A Nordenstrom, A Patocs, L Persani, N Reisch, A Smyth, Z Sumnik, W E Visser, O Hiort, A M Pereira, S F Ahmed and on behalf of Endo-ERN


To identify cross-border international registries for rare endocrine conditions that are led from Europe and to understand the extent of engagement with these registries within a network of reference centres (RCs) for rare endocrine conditions.


Database search of international registries and a survey of RCs in the European Reference Network for rare endocrine conditions (Endo-ERN) with an overall response rate of 82%.


Of the 42 conditions with orphacodes currently covered within Endo-ERN, international registries exist for 32 (76%). Of 27 registries identified in the Orphanet and RD-Connect databases, Endo-ERN RCs were aware of 11 (41%). Of 21 registries identified by the RC, RD-Connect and Orphanet did not have a record of 10 (48%). Of the 29 glucose RCs, the awareness and participation rate in an international registry was highest for rare diabetes at 75 and 56% respectively. Of the 37 sex development RCs, the corresponding rates were highest for disorders of sex development at 70 and 52%. Of the 33 adrenal RCs, the rates were highest for adrenocortical tumours at 68 and 43%. Of the 43 pituitary RCs, the rates were highest for pituitary adenomas at 43 and 29%. Of the 31 genetic tumour RCs, the rates were highest for MEN1 at 26 and 9%. For the remaining conditions, awareness and participation in registries was less than 25%.


Although there is a need to develop new registries for rare endocrine conditions, there is a more immediate need to improve the awareness and participation in existing registries.