Androgens in women either derive from direct ovarian production or from peripheral conversion of the adrenal sex steroid precursor, dehydroepiandrosterone, towards active androgens. Therefore, loss of adrenal or ovarian function, caused by Addison’s disease or consequent to bilateral oophorectomy, results in severe androgen deficiency, clinically often associated with a loss of libido and energy. Importantly, physiological menopause does not necessarily lead to androgen deficiency, as androgen synthesis in the ovaries may persist despite the decline in estrogen production. However, the definition of female androgen deficiency, as recently provided by the Princeton consensus statement, is not precise enough and may lead to over-diagnosis due to the high prevalence of its diagnostic criteria: androgen levels below or within the lower quartile of the normal range and concurrent sexual dysfunction. Importantly, physiological menopause is not necessarily associated with androgen deficiency and therefore does not routinely require androgen therapy. Current replacement options include transdermal testosterone administration or dehydroepiandrosterone treatment, both of which have been shown to result in significant improvements, in particular in libido and mood, while effects on body composition and muscular function are not well documented. It is important to keep in mind that the number of randomized controlled trials is still limited and that currently none of the available preparations is officially approved for use in women. Currently, androgen replacement should be reserved for women with severe androgen deficiency due to an established cause and matching clinical signs and symptoms.
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Katherine White and Wiebke Arlt
Adrenal crisis is a life-threatening event that occurs regularly in Addison's patients receiving standard replacement therapy. Patient reports suggest that it is an underestimated and under-managed event.
To assess the frequency of adrenal crisis in diagnosed patients and to understand the factors contributing to the risks of adrenal crisis.
We conducted a postal survey of Addison's patients in four countries, UK (n=485), Canada (n=148), Australia (n=123) and New Zealand (n=85) in 2003, asking about patients' experiences of adrenal crisis and their demographic characteristics. In 2006, a shorter follow-up survey was conducted in the UK (n=261).
The frequency and causes of adrenal crisis were compared across both surveys. Demographic data from the 2003 survey were analysed to establish the main variables associated with an elevated risk of crisis.
Around 8% of diagnosed cases can be expected to need hospital treatment for adrenal crisis annually. Exposure to gastric infection is the single most important factor predicting the likelihood of adrenal crisis. Concomitant diabetes and/or asthma increase the frequency of adrenal crises reported by patients.
The endocrinologist has a responsibility to ensure that Addison's patients have adequate access to life-saving emergency injection materials and repeated, practical training sessions in how to use them, while the general practitioner plays a vital role as in arranging prompt emergency admissions.
Lina Schiffer, Punith Kempegowda, Wiebke Arlt, and Michael W O’Reilly
Female androgen excess and male androgen deficiency manifest with an overlapping adverse metabolic phenotype, including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Here, we review the impact of androgens on metabolic target tissues in an attempt to unravel the complex mechanistic links with metabolic dysfunction; we also evaluate clinical studies examining the associations between metabolic disease and disorders of androgen metabolism in men and women. We conceptualise that an equilibrium between androgen effects on adipose tissue and skeletal muscle underpins the metabolic phenotype observed in female androgen excess and male androgen deficiency. Androgens induce adipose tissue dysfunction, with effects on lipid metabolism, insulin resistance and fat mass expansion, while anabolic effects on skeletal muscle may confer metabolic benefits. We hypothesise that serum androgen concentrations observed in female androgen excess and male hypogonadism are metabolically disadvantageous, promoting adipose and liver lipid accumulation, central fat mass expansion and insulin resistance.
Dorota Tomalik-Scharte, Dominique Maiter, Julia Kirchheiner, Hannah E Ivison, Uwe Fuhr, and Wiebke Arlt
Patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to P450 oxidoreductase (POR) deficiency (ORD) present with disordered sex development and glucocorticoid deficiency. This is due to disruption of electron transfer from mutant POR to microsomal cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes that play a key role in glucocorticoid and sex steroid synthesis. POR also transfers electrons to all major drug-metabolizing CYP enzymes, including CYP3A4 that inactivates glucocorticoid and oestrogens. However, whether ORD results in impairment of in vivo drug metabolism has never been studied.
We studied an adult patient with ORD due to homozygous POR A287P, the most frequent POR mutation in Caucasians, and her clinically unaffected, heterozygous mother. The patient had received standard dose oestrogen replacement from 17 until 37 years of age when it was stopped after she developed breast cancer.
Both subjects underwent in vivo cocktail phenotyping comprising the oral administration of caffeine, tolbutamide, omeprazole, dextromethorphan hydrobromide and midazolam to assess the five major drug-metabolizing CYP enzymes. We also performed genotyping for variant CYP alleles known to affect drug metabolism.
Though CYP enzyme genotyping predicted normal or high enzymatic activities in both subjects, in vivo assessment showed subnormal activities of CYP1A2, CYP2C9, CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 in the patient and of CYP1A2 and CYP2C9 in her mother.
Our results provide in vivo evidence for an important role of POR in regulating drug metabolism and detoxification. In patients with ORD, in vivo assessment of drug-metabolizing activities with subsequent tailoring of drug therapy and steroid replacement should be considered.
Wiebke Arlt, Stephanie E Baldeweg, Simon H S Pearce, and Helen L Simpson
We provide guidance on prevention of adrenal crisis during the global COVID-19 crisis, a time with frequently restricted access to the usual level of healthcare. Patients with adrenal insufficiency are at an increased risk of infection, which may be complicated by developing an adrenal crisis; however, there is currently no evidence that adrenal insufficiency patients are more likely to develop a severe course of disease. We highlight the need for education (sick day rules, stringent social distancing rules), equipment (sufficient glucocorticoid supplies, steroid emergency self-injection kit) and empowerment (steroid emergency card, COVID-19 guidelines) to prevent adrenal crises. In patients with adrenal insufficiency developing an acute COVID-19 infection, which frequently presents with continuous high fever, we suggest oral stress dose cover with 20 mg hydrocortisone every 6 h. We also comment on suggested dosing for patients who usually take modified release hydrocortisone or prednisolone. In patients with adrenal insufficiency showing clinical deterioration during an acute COVID-19 infection, we advise immediate (self-)injection of 100 mg hydrocortisone intramuscularly, followed by continuous i.v. infusion of 200 mg hydrocortisone per 24 h, or until this can be established, and administration of 50 mg hydrocortisone every 6 h. We also advise on doses for infants and children.
Wiebke Arlt, Olaf M Dekkers, Juliane Léger, and Robert K Semple
Jan Idkowiak, Gareth G Lavery, Vivek Dhir, Timothy G Barrett, Paul M Stewart, Nils Krone, and Wiebke Arlt
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.
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.
Anna C Phillips, Douglas Carroll, Catharine R Gale, Janet M Lord, Wiebke Arlt, and G David Batty
The aim of the present analyses was to examine the association between cortisol, DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) and the cortisol:DHEAS ratio and mortality.
This was a prospective cohort analysis.
Participants were 4255 Vietnam-era US army veterans. From military service files, telephone interviews and a medical examination, occupational, socio-demographic and health data were collected. Contemporary morning fasted cortisol and DHEAS concentrations were determined. Mortality was tracked over the subsequent 15 years. The outcomes were all-cause, cardiovascular disease, cancer, other medical mortality and external causes of death. Cox proportional hazard models were tested, initially with adjustment for age, and then with adjustment for a range of candidate confounders.
In general, cortisol concentrations did not show an association with all-cause or cause-specific mortality. However, in age-adjusted and fully adjusted analyses, DHEAS was negatively related to all-cause, all cancers and other medical mortality; high DHEAS concentrations were protective. The cortisol:DHEAS ratio was also associated with these outcomes in both age-adjusted and fully adjusted models; the higher the ratio, the greater the risk of death.
DHEAS was negatively associated, and the ratio of cortisol to DHEAS was positively associated with all-cause, cancer and other medical cause mortality. Further experimental study is needed to elucidate the mechanisms involved in these relationships.