Reference intervals for plasma concentrations of adrenal steroids measured by LC-MS/MS: Impact of gender, age, oral contraceptives, body mass index and blood pressure status

Clin Chim Acta. 2017 Jul;470:115-124. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2017.05.002. Epub 2017 May 4.


Background: Mass spectrometric-based measurements of the steroid metabolome have been introduced to diagnose disorders featuring abnormal steroidogenesis. Defined reference intervals are important for interpreting such data.

Methods: Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry was used to establish reference intervals for 16 steroids (pregnenolone, progesterone, 11-deoxycorticosterone, corticosterone, aldosterone, 18-oxocortisol, 18-hydroxycortisol, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 21-deoxycortisol, 11-deoxycortisol, cortisol, cortisone, dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, androstenedione, testosterone) measured in plasma from 525 volunteers with (n=227) and without (n=298) hypertension, including 68 women on oral contraceptives.

Results: Women showed variable plasma concentrations of several steroids associated with menstrual cycle phase, menopause and oral contraceptive use. Progesterone was higher in females than males, but most other steroids were higher in males than females and almost all declined with advancing age. Using models that corrected for age and gender, body mass index showed weak negative relationships with corticosterone, 21-deoxycortisol, cortisol, cortisone, testosterone, progesterone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone and 11-deoxycorticosterone, but a positive relationship with 18-hydroxycortisol. Hypertensives and normotensives showed negligible differences in plasma concentrations of steroids.

Conclusion: Age and gender are the most important variables for plasma steroid reference intervals, which have been established here according to those variables for a panel of 16 steroids primarily useful for diagnosis and subtyping of patients with endocrine hypertension.

Keywords: Age; Gender; Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS); Oral contraceptives; Reference intervals; Steroids.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / blood*
  • Blood Chemical Analysis / standards*
  • Blood Pressure*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Contraceptives, Oral / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Steroids / blood*
  • Steroids / metabolism
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Steroids