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
Silvia Parajes, Angel OK Chan, W M But, Ian T Rose, Angela E Taylor, Vivek Dhir, Wiebke Arlt and Nils Krone
Cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A1) catalyses the first and rate-limiting step of steroidogenesis, the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone. CYP11A1 deficiency is commonly associated with adrenal insufficiency, and in 46,XY individuals, with variable degrees of disorder of sex development (DSD).
Patient and methods
The patient was born with hyperpigmentation, micropenis, penoscrotal hypospadias, and mild cryptorchidism. Biochemical and hormonal findings were normal except for low testosterone and low-borderline cortisol. However, no short synacthen test was undertaken. Development was unremarkable apart from an episode labeled as sepsis with documented hyperkalemia and elevated C-reactive protein at age 15 days. Diagnosis of 46,XY DSD was made at age 2.5 months. Progression of hyperpigmentation prompted further investigations and the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency was established at 2 years with raised ACTH, normal renin activity, and failure of cortisol to respond to short synacthen test. Genetic analyses were performed. The novel CYP11A1 mutations were characterized in vitro and in silico.
The patient was compound heterozygous for two novel CYP11A1 mutations, p.R360W and p.R405X. p.R360W retained 30–40% of wild-type activity. In silico analyses confirmed these findings and indicated that p.R405X is severe.
This study demonstrates the pathogenicity of two novel CYP11A1 mutations found in a patient with delayed diagnosis of CYP11A1 deficiency. Patients with partial deficiencies of steroidogenic enzymes are at risk to be misdiagnosed if adrenal function is not assessed. The adrenocortical function should be routinely assessed in all patients with DSD including severe hypospadias of unknown origin to prevent life-threatening adrenal crises.