Premature adrenarche: etiology, clinical findings, and consequences

Raimo Voutilainen, Jarmo Jääskeläinen
Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2015, 145: 226-36
Adrenarche means the morphological and functional change of the adrenal cortex leading to increasing production of adrenal androgen precursors (AAPs) in mid childhood, typically at around 5-8 years of age in humans. The AAPs dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate conjugate (DHEAS) are the best serum markers of adrenal androgen (AA) secretion and adrenarche. Normal ACTH secretion and action are needed for adrenarche, but additional inherent and exogenous factors regulate AA secretion. Inter-individual variation in the timing of adrenarche and serum concentrations of DHEA(S) in adolescence and adulthood are remarkable. Premature adrenarche (PA) is defined as the appearance of clinical signs of androgen action (pubic/axillary hair, adult type body odor, oily skin or hair, comedones, acne, accelerated statural growth) before the age of 8 years in girls or 9 years in boys associated with AAP concentrations high for the prepubertal chronological age. To accept the diagnosis of PA, central puberty, adrenocortical and gonadal sex hormone secreting tumors, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and exogenous source of androgens need to be excluded. The individually variable peripheral conversion of circulating AAPs to biologically more active androgens (testosterone, dihydrotestosterone) and the androgen receptor activity in the target tissues are as important as the circulating AAP concentrations as determinants of androgen action. PA has gained much attention during the last decades, as it has been associated with small birth size, the metabolic and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and thus with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in later life. The aim of this review is to describe the known hormonal changes and their possible regulators in on-time and premature adrenarche, and the clinical features and possible later health problems associating with PA.

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