Congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency

Endocr Rev. 2000 Jun;21(3):245-91. doi: 10.1210/edrv.21.3.0398.


More than 90% of cases of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH, the inherited inability to synthesize cortisol) are caused by 21-hydroxylase deficiency. Females with severe, classic 21-hydroxylase deficiency are exposed to excess androgens prenatally and are born with virilized external genitalia. Most patients cannot synthesize sufficient aldosterone to maintain sodium balance and may develop potentially fatal "salt wasting" crises if not treated. The disease is caused by mutations in the CYP21 gene encoding the steroid 21-hydroxylase enzyme. More than 90% of these mutations result from intergenic recombinations between CYP21 and the closely linked CYP21P pseudogene. Approximately 20% are gene deletions due to unequal crossing over during meiosis, whereas the remainder are gene conversions--transfers to CYP21 of deleterious mutations normally present in CYP21P. The degree to which each mutation compromises enzymatic activity is strongly correlated with the clinical severity of the disease in patients carrying it. Prenatal diagnosis by direct mutation detection permits prenatal treatment of affected females to minimize genital virilization. Neonatal screening by hormonal methods identifies affected children before salt wasting crises develop, reducing mortality from this condition. Glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement are the mainstays of treatment, but more rational dosing and additional therapies are being developed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / biosynthesis
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / blood
  • Adrenal Glands / physiopathology
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital* / enzymology*
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital* / genetics
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital* / physiopathology
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital* / therapy
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • Disorders of Sex Development / enzymology
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Steroid 21-Hydroxylase / chemistry
  • Steroid 21-Hydroxylase / genetics
  • Steroid 21-Hydroxylase / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Steroid 21-Hydroxylase