Ovarian hyperandrogynism as a result of congenital adrenal virilizing disorders: evidence for perinatal masculinization of neuroendocrine function in women

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1994 Nov;79(5):1328-33. doi: 10.1210/jcem.79.5.7962325.


Women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency often have a polycystic ovary-like syndrome, consisting of hyperandrogynism, infertility, menstrual irregularities, and elevated LH levels. This is generally considered secondary to poor control of the congenital adrenal hyperplasia. However, our experience led us to suspect that ovarian hyperandrogenism occurs even when congenital adrenal hyperplasia is well controlled on glucocorticoid therapy. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that congenital adrenal virilizing disorders result in ovarian hyperandrogenism. We studied eight women with congenital adrenal virilizing disorders, seven with well controlled classic 21-hydroxylase deficiency and one with congenital virilizing adrenal carcinoma removed at 1.7 yr of age. We also studied six women with late-onset 21-hydroxylase deficiency, without signs of congenital virilization. An ovarian source of androgens was assessed after suppressing adrenal function with dexamethasone and then testing pituitary-ovarian function by a GnRH agonist (nafarelin) test. Five women with congenital adrenal virilizing disorders (four with classic 21-hydroxylase deficiency and one with congenital virilizing adrenal carcinoma) and one women with late-onset 21-hydroxylase deficiency had ovarian hyperandrogenism as determined by subnormal suppression of free testosterone after dexamethasone and/or by increased 17-hydroxyprogesterone response to nafarelin while on dexamethasone. All women with congenital adrenal virilization and ovarian hyperandrogenism had elevated LH levels after dexamethasone or elevated early LH response to nafarelin, which suggests that LH excess is the cause of their ovarian hyperandrogenism. This was not the case for the late-onset 21-hydroxylase-deficient woman. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that congenital adrenal virilization programs the hypothalamic-pituitary axis for hypersecretion of LH at puberty. This is postulated to frequently cause ovarian hyperandrogenism even when adrenal androgen excess is subsequently controlled by glucocorticoid therapy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / complications*
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / congenital*
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / metabolism
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / complications
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / congenital
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / deficiency
  • Hyperandrogenism / etiology*
  • Hyperandrogenism / metabolism
  • Hyperandrogenism / physiopathology
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism
  • Nafarelin / pharmacology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Neurosecretory Systems / metabolism
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Ovarian Diseases / etiology*
  • Ovarian Diseases / physiopathology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Testosterone / metabolism
  • Virilism / metabolism
  • Virilism / physiopathology*


  • Nafarelin
  • Testosterone
  • Dexamethasone
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Hydrolases