Cholesterol Deprivation Drives DHEA Biosynthesis in Human Adrenals

Endocrinology. 2022 Jul 1;163(7):bqac076. doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqac076.


Adrenarche is an early event in sexual maturation in prepubertal children and corresponds to the postnatal development of the adrenocortical zona reticularis (zR). However, the molecular mechanisms that govern the onset and maturation of zR remain unknown. Using tissue laser microdissection combined with transcript quantification and immunodetection, we showed that the human zR receives low levels of cholesterol in comparison with other adrenal layers. To model this metabolic condition, we challenged adrenal cells in vitro using cholesterol deprivation. This resulted in reprogramming the steroidogenic pathway toward inactivation of 3-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (HSD3B2), increased CYB5A expression, and increased biosynthesis of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), 3 key features of zR maturation during adrenarche. Finally, we found that cholesterol deprivation leads to decreased transcriptional activity of POU3F2, which normally stimulates the expression of HSD3B2 by directly binding to its promoter. These findings demonstrate that cholesterol deprivation can account, at least in part, for the acquisition of a zR-like androgenic program in humans.

Keywords: DHEA; adrenarche; cholesterol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands* / metabolism
  • Adrenarche* / physiology
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Child
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Zona Reticularis / metabolism


  • Androgens
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone