Classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia and puberty

in European Journal of Endocrinology

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a group of autosomal recessive disorders resulting from deficiency of one of the five enzymes required for synthesis of cortisol in the adrenal cortex. The most common form of the disease is classic 21-hydroxylase deficiency, which is characterized by decreased synthesis of glucocorticoids and often mineralocorticoids, adrenal hyperandrogenism and impaired development and function of the adrenal medulla. The clinical management of classic 21-hydroxylase deficiency is often suboptimal, and patients are at risk of developing in tandem iatrogenic hypercortisolism and/or hyperandogenism. Limitations of current medical therapy include the inability to control hyperandrogenism without employing supraphysiologic doses of glucocorticoid, hyperresponsiveness of the hypertrophied adrenal glands to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and difficulty in suppressing ACTH secretion from the anterior pituitary. Puberty imposes increased difficulty in attaining adrenocortical suppression despite optimal substitution therapy and adherence to medical treatment. Alterations in the endocrine milieu at puberty may influence cortisol pharmacokinetics and, consequently, the handling of hydrocortisone used as replacement therapy. Recent studies have demonstrated a significant increase in cortisol clearance at puberty and a shorter half-life of free cortisol in pubertal females compared with males. Furthermore, children with classic CAH have elevated fasting serum insulin concentrations and insulin resistance. The latter may further enhance adrenal and/or ovarian androgen secretion, decrease the therapeutic efficacy of glucocorticoids and contribute to later development of the metabolic syndrome and its complications.

 

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