Adrenal Androgen Production Capacity Remains High up to Menopause in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

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Hyperandrogenism is one of the main features of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Of circulating androgens, 50% of androstenedione and testosterone are of ovarian and adrenal origin, whereas dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate are almost uniquely of adrenal origin. Our previous studies have indicated that ovarian androgen production capacity is enhanced in women with PCOS, and it remains high until late reproductive age. To study whether this also applies to adrenal androgen production, ACTH tests were performed in healthy women and in women with PCOS.


Sixty-nine healthy women (aged 19-62 yr; body mass index 19.2-35.0 kg/m2) and 58 women with previously diagnosed PCOS (aged 18-59 yr; body mass index 19.0-42.9 kg/m2) participated in the study.


The subjects underwent ACTH stimulation tests, and serum cortisol, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, androstenedione, testosterone, DHEA, and DHEA sulfate levels were analyzed at 0, 30, and 60 min.


Basal and ACTH-stimulated levels of most adrenal androgens decreased in healthy women with age, whereas in women with PCOS, only the concentrations of basal serum 17-hydroxyprogesterone decreased, and all areas under the curve (AUCs) remained unchanged and significantly higher (except for DHEA) than those in control women. Likewise, at the menopausal transition, pre- and postmenopausal women with PCOS exhibited mainly unchanged and higher basal androgen and AUC levels.


Similarly to ovarian endocrine function, serum adrenal steroid levels and adrenal steroid production capacity remain enhanced at least up to menopause in women with PCOS.

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