Adrenarche reflects the maturation of the adrenal zona reticularis resulting in increased secretion of the adrenal androgen precursor DHEA and its sulphate ester DHEAS. Premature adrenarche (PA) is defined by increased levels of DHEA and DHEAS before the age of 8 years in girls and 9 years in boys and the concurrent presence of signs of androgen action including adult-type body odour, oily skin and hair and pubic hair growth. PA is distinct from precocious puberty, which manifests with the development of secondary sexual characteristics including testicular growth and breast development. Idiopathic PA (IPA) has long been considered an extreme of normal variation, but emerging evidence links IPA to an increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome (MS) and thus ultimately cardiovascular morbidity. Areas of controversy include the question whether IPA in girls is associated with a higher rate of progression to the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and whether low birth weight increases the risk of developing IPA. The recent discoveries of two novel monogenic causes of early onset androgen excess, apparent cortisone reductase deficiency and apparent DHEA sulphotransferase deficiency, support the notion that PA may represent a forerunner condition for PCOS. Future research including carefully designed longitudinal studies is required to address the apparent link between early onset androgen excess and the development of insulin resistance and the MS.
Jan Idkowiak, Gareth G Lavery, Vivek Dhir, Timothy G Barrett, Paul M Stewart, Nils Krone and Wiebke Arlt
Jan Idkowiak, Yasir S Elhassan, Pascoe Mannion, Karen Smith, Rachel Webster, Vrinda Saraff, Timothy G Barrett, Nicholas J Shaw, Nils Krone, Renuka P Dias, Melanie Kershaw, Jeremy M Kirk, Wolfgang Högler, Ruth E Krone, Michael W O’Reilly and Wiebke Arlt
Androgen excess in childhood is a common presentation and may signify sinister underlying pathology. Data describing its patterns and severity are scarce, limiting the information available for clinical decision processes. Here, we examined the differential diagnostic value of serum DHEAS, androstenedione (A4) and testosterone in childhood androgen excess.
Retrospective review of all children undergoing serum androgen measurement at a single center over 5 years.
Serum A4 and testosterone were measured by tandem mass spectrometry and DHEAS by immunoassay. Patients with at least one increased androgen underwent phenotyping by clinical notes review.
In 487 children with simultaneous DHEAS, A4 and testosterone measurements, we identified 199 with androgen excess (140 pre- and 59 post-pubertal). Premature adrenarche (PA) was the most common pre-pubertal diagnosis (61%), characterized by DHEAS excess in 85%, while A4 and testosterone were only increased in 26 and 9% respectively. PCOS was diagnosed in 40% of post-pubertal subjects, presenting equally frequent with isolated excess of DHEAS (29%) or testosterone (25%) or increases in both A4 and testosterone (25%). CAH patients (6%) predominantly had A4 excess (86%); testosterone and DHEAS were increased in 50 and 33% respectively. Concentrations increased above the two-fold upper limit of normal were mostly observed in PA for serum DHEAS (>20-fold in the single case of adrenocortical carcinoma) and in CAH for serum androstenedione.
Patterns and severity of childhood androgen excess provide pointers to the underlying diagnosis and can be used to guide further investigations.