Adrenal androgen hyperresponsiveness to adrenocorticotropin in women with acne and/or hirsutism: adrenal enzyme defects and exaggerated adrenarche.J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1986 May; 62(5):840-8.JC
To determine the adrenal contribution to elevated plasma androgens in 31 young hyperandrogenemic women with acne and/or hirsutism, we compared their responses to ACTH with those of 14 normal women. Each subject was given a low dose (10 micrograms/m2) of synthetic ACTH-(1-24) (Cortrosyn) after administration of 1.5 mg dexamethasone the night before the test. Thirty and 60 min responses of plasma 17 alpha-hydroxypregnenolone (17-Preg), 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone, (17-prog), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, 11-deoxycortisol, and cortisol were measured. Eighteen (58%) patients had increased responses of at least one 17-ketosteroid or adrenal androgen precursor. All patients had cortisol responses within the range of those of the 14 normal subjects. Nine patients (29%) had evidence of steroid biosynthetic enzyme deficiencies, either mild congenital adrenal hyperplasia or the heterozygote state; after ACTH, 4 of these patients had elevated 17-prog in the range of values in heterozygote carriers of 21-hydroxylase deficiency, 2 had elevated levels of 11-deoxycortisol compatible with 11 beta-hydroxylase deficiency, and 3 had elevated levels of 17-Preg and DHEA, suggestive of 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency. Another 9 subjects (29%) had 17-ketosteroid (DHEA and/or androstenedione) hyperresponsiveness to ACTH with associated elevated 17-Preg responses. As a group, their patterns suggested relatively deficient 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and relatively hyperactive C lyase without impairment of cortisol secretion. This pattern resembles exaggerated adrenarche, and we postulate that these 9 patients have hyperplasia of the zona reticularis. Neither basal levels of plasma androgens (free testosterone and DHEA sulfate) nor menstrual history predicted which patients would have abnormal ACTH responses. Although 5 of 11 (45%) patients with acne alone had abnormal responses to ACTH, 10 of 14 patients with acne and hirsutism (71%) had abnormal responses to ACTH. We conclude that an adrenal contribution is found in about half of hyperandrogenemic women with acne and/or hirsutism. This adrenal androgen hyperresponsiveness is heterogeneous. Some patients may have mild forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. However, functional androgenic hyperresponsiveness to ACTH, which resembles an exaggeration of adrenarche, is the most common abnormality found. Such findings may provide an explanation for the clinical observation of exacerbations of acne with stress.