Adrenal involvement in polycystic ovary syndrome

Semin Reprod Endocrinol. 1997 May;15(2):137-57. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1016296.


The etiology of hyperandrogenic chronic anovulation is heterogeneous and relatively unknown in the majority of cases. Affected individuals in this latter segment are considered to have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) of which 50 to 60% exhibit androgen excess of adrenal origin. An understanding of normal adrenal function provides insight into the factors that contribute to adrenal androgen excess in PCOS. Since pituitary ACTH secretion promotes developmental growth and overall steroidogenic efficiency within the adrenal cortex, it is probable that these actions of ACTH along with the adrenal's unique centripetal circulation play a major role in the induction of adrenarche. This latter phenomenon is characterized by alterations in adrenocortical morphology and steroidogenic enzyme activities culminating in increases in adrenal androgens to normal circulating adult levels. Thus, it is not surprising that adrenal dynamic testing has revealed increased 17,20 lyase activity or adrenal androgen hyper-responsiveness to ACTH as the two abnormalities leading to adrenal androgen excess in PCOS. Whereas 17,20 lyase hyperactivity diagnosed by defined criteria in response to pharmacological ACTH may be an intrinsic genetic defect, increases in 17,20 lyase activity and adrenal androgen hyper-responsiveness to ACTH in response to physiological ACTH may be promoted by the functional elevation of estrogen of ovarian origin in PCOS. The latest in vitro data suggest the estrogen may elicit its effect on the adrenal cortex through a receptor mediated mechanism. Therefore, the currently available data indicate that adrenal androgen excess in PCOS is also heterogeneous in etiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex / physiology*
  • Adrenal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / biosynthesis
  • Adrenal Glands / physiology
  • Adrenal Glands / physiopathology*
  • Adult
  • Androgens / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Anovulation
  • Base Sequence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Ovary / physiopathology*
  • Point Mutation
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Steroid 17-alpha-Hydroxylase / genetics


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Androgens
  • Steroid 17-alpha-Hydroxylase