European Journal of Endocrinology

 MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Rare defects in adrenal steroidogenesis

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a group of genetic disorders of adrenal steroidogenesis that impair cortisol synthesis, with compensatory increases in ACTH leading to hyperplastic adrenals. The term ‘CAH’ is generally used to mean ‘steroid 21-hydroxylase deficiency’ (21OHD) as 21OHD accounts for about 95% of CAH in most populations; the incidences of the rare forms of CAH vary with ethnicity and geography. These forms of CAH are easily understood on the basis of the biochemistry of steroidogenesis. Defects in the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, StAR, disrupt all steroidogenesis and are the second-most common form of CAH in Japan and Korea; very rare defects in the cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme, P450scc, are clinically indistinguishable from StAR defects. Defects in 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which also causes disordered sexual development, were once thought to be fairly common, but genetic analyses show that steroid measurements are generally unreliable for this disorder. Defects in 17-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase ablate synthesis of sex steroids and also cause mineralocorticoid hypertension; these are common in Brazil and in China. Isolated 17,20-lyase deficiency can be caused by rare mutations in at least three different proteins. P450 oxidoreductase (POR) is a co-factor used by 21-hydroxylase, 17-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase and aromatase; various POR defects, found in different populations, affect these enzymes differently. 11-Hydroxylase deficiency is the second-most common form of CAH in European populations but the retention of aldosterone synthesis distinguishes it from 21OHD. Aldosterone synthase deficiency is a rare salt-losing disorder. Mild, ‘non-classic’ defects in all of these factors have been described. Both the severe and non-classic disorders can be treated if recognized.