Adrenarche and bone modeling and remodeling at the proximal radius: weak androgens make stronger cortical bone in healthy children

J Bone Miner Res. 2003 Aug;18(8):1539-46. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.2003.18.8.1539.


Adrenarche, the physiological increase in adrenal androgen secretion, may contribute to better bone status. Proximal radial bone and 24-h urinary steroid hormones were analyzed cross-sectionally in 205 healthy children and adolescents. Positive adrenarchal effects on radial diaphyseal bone were observed. Obviously, adrenarche is one determinant of bone mineral status in children.

Introduction: Increased bone mass has been reported in several conditions with supraphysiological adrenal androgen secretion during growth. However, no data are available for normal children. Therefore, our aim was to examine whether adrenal androgens within their physiological ranges may be involved in the strengthening of diaphyseal bone during growth.

Methods: Periosteal circumference (PC), cortical density, cortical area, bone mineral content, bone strength strain index (SSI), and forearm cross-sectional muscle area were determined with peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) at the proximal radial diaphysis in healthy children and adolescents. All subjects, aged 6-18 years, who collected a 24-h urine sample around the time of their pQCT analysis (100 boys, 105 girls), were included in the present study, and major urinary glucocorticoid (C21) and androgen (C19) metabolites were quantified using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

Results and conclusions: We found a significant influence of muscularity, but not of hormones, on periosteal modeling (PC) before the appearance of pubic hair (prepubarche). Similarly, no influence of total cortisol secretion (C21) was seen on the other bone variables. However, positive effects of C19 on cortical density (p < 0.01), cortical area (p < 0.001), bone mineral content (p < 0.001), and SSI (p < 0.001)--reflecting, at least in part, reduction in intracortical remodeling-were observed in prepubarchal children after muscularity or age had been adjusted for. This early adrenarchal contribution to proximal radial diaphyseal bone strength was further confirmed for all cortical variables (except PC) when, instead of C19 and C21, specific dehydroepiandrosterone metabolites were included as independent variables in the multiple regression model. During development of pubic hair (pubarche), muscularity and pubertal stage rather than adrenarchal hormones seemed to influence bone variables. Our study shows that especially the prepubarchal increase in adrenal androgen secretion plays an independent role in the accretion of proximal radial diaphyseal bone strength in healthy children.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Androgens / urine
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Bone Remodeling / physiology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Puberty / urine
  • Radiography
  • Radius / diagnostic imaging
  • Radius / physiology*


  • Androgens