Increased 5 alpha-Reductase Activity and Adrenocortical Drive in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Dimitra Vassiliadi, TM Barber, Beverly Hughes, MI McCarthy, JAH Wass, S Franks, Peter Nightingale, Jeremy Tomlinson, Wiebke Arlt, Paul Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

72 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by hyperandrogenism, anovulation, and susceptibility to the metabolic syndrome. Altered peripheral cortisol metabolism has been reported in PCOS, but also in simple obesity. Objective: The aim of the study was to describe cortisol metabolism and metabolic characteristics of a large PCOS cohort and to delineate the effect of obesity by comparison to body mass index (BMI)-matched controls. Design and Setting: We conducted an observational, cross-sectional study at outpatient clinics of two secondary/tertiary care centers. Patients or Other Participants: A total of 178 PCOS patients fulfilling Rotterdam criteria and 100 BMI-matched controls participated in the study. Intervention: The study included 24-h urine collection for steroid metabolite excretion and fasting blood samples, followed by an oral glucose tolerance test. Main Outcome Measures: We measured urinary steroid metabolites including glucocorticoids and androgens and the ratios reflecting enzymatic activities involved in peripheral cortisol and androgen metabolism, 5 alpha-reductase, and 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase types 1 and 2. We also measured circulating levels of glucose, insulin, dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and testosterone and calculated homeostasis model assessment. Results: Total androgen metabolites were higher in PCOS patients compared to BMI-matched controls (4,105 +/- 2,047 vs. 2,532 +/- 1,610 mu g/24 h for the nonobese; 5,547 +/- 2,911 vs. 2,468 +/- 1,794 mu g/24 h for the obese; both P <0.001). Total glucocorticoid metabolites were higher in obese PCOS vs. controls (10,786 +/- 3,852 vs. 8,834 +/- 4,487 mu g/24 h; P = 0.001). 5 alpha-Reductase activity correlated with BMI, insulin levels, and homeostasis model assessment. Both obese and nonobese PCOS patients had higher 5 alpha-reductase activity than controls (all P <0.05). 11 beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activities did not differ between PCOS and controls. Conclusions: PCOS is associated with enhanced androgen and cortisol metabolite excretion and increased 5 alpha-reductase activity that cannot be explained by obesity alone. Increased adrenal corticosteroid production represents an important pathogenic pathway in PCOS. (J Clin Endocrinol Metab 94: 3558-3566, 2009)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3558-3566
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2009


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