Hormonal findings in African-American and Caribbean Hispanic girls with premature adrenarche: implications for polycystic ovarian syndrome

S Banerjee, S Raghavan, E J Wasserman, B L Linder, P Saenger, J DiMartino-Nardi
Pediatrics 1998, 102 (3): E36

BACKGROUND: Premature adrenarche refers to the early maturation of the adrenal zona reticularis such that the resultant modest hyperandrogenism causes the early appearance of pubic hair before the age of 8 years in girls and 9 years in boys. The precise etiology of premature adrenarche is not known. However, recent studies indicate that certain girls with premature adrenarche are at risk of developing functional ovarian hyperandrogenism, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and hyperinsulinism. Caribbean Hispanic women in general are at increased risk of developing polycystic ovarian syndrome, and African-Americans are at increased risk of developing the complications of hyperinsulinism. Previously, girls with premature adrenarche were reported to have androgens in the range found in normal children in the early stages of puberty. We noted that many of our African-American and Caribbean Hispanic patients with premature adrenarche had androgens that were much higher than what has been reported previously.

OBJECTIVE: This retrospective study was performed to characterize the adrenocorticotropin-stimulated androgen response in an African-American and Caribbean Hispanic population of girls with premature adrenarche.

METHODOLOGY: The androgen response to adrenocorticotropin stimulation in 72 African-American and Caribbean Hispanic girls with premature adrenarche was compared with those reported for normal girls in early puberty (Tanner stages II and III). The mean age was 6.8 +/- 0.8 years, bone age was 8 +/- 1.5 years, pubic hair was Tanner stages II and III, and body mass index was 18.6 +/- 4.

RESULTS: Of the girls, 28% were found to have elevated stimulated 17OHPregnenolone (17OHPreg) levels that were >2 SD units above the mean for normal early pubertal children. The stimulated ratio of 17OHPreg/17OHProgesterone also was elevated in 18% of the girls and showed a modest correlation with body mass index.

CONCLUSION: In contrast to previous studies of girls of mixed ethnic backgrounds with premature adrenarche, 28% of the 72 African-American and Caribbean Hispanic girls with premature adrenarche had adrenocorticotropin-stimulated 17OHPreg levels that were significantly higher than those seen in early pubertal girls. Because 17OHPreg hyperresponsiveness has been described previously in women with hirsutism or polycystic ovarian syndrome, the similar finding in many African-American and Caribbean Hispanic girls with premature adrenarche suggests that the two conditions may share a common mechanism for their hyperandrogenism. Therefore, the hyperandrogenism in certain African-American and Caribbean Hispanic girls with premature adrenarche may not be benign and may be the first presentation of polycystic ovarian syndrome.

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