Dehydroepiandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate production in the human adrenal during development and aging.

Academic Article


  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is produced in prodigious quantities by the human adrenal, principally as the 3-sulfoconjugate DHEA sulfate (DS) during intrauterine life. The fetal zone and neocortex cells of the fetal adrenal express large amounts of DHEA sulfotransferase and minimal amounts, at least until very near the end of gestation, of 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. This pattern of enzyme expression favors substantial secretion of DHEA/DS with minimal cortisol produced; the DHEA/DS serves as the major precursor for placental estrogen formation in human pregnancy. Aside from adrenocorticotropin, other physiologic regulators of growth and steroidogenesis in the fetal adrenal have been postulated to exist, but have yet to be identified. Whereas intrauterine stressors may activate adrenal cortisol secretion, the fetal adrenal responds to many pregnancy conditions by suppressing DHEA/DS formation. After birth, the human adrenal undergoes reorganization whereby the large, inner fetal zone regresses, and DHEA/DS production is diminished. Just prior to gonadal maturation, the human adrenal undergoes morphologic and functional changes (adrenarche) that give rise to a prominent zona reticularis that is characterized by the presence of DHEA sulfotransferase, the absence of 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and an enhancement of DHEA/DS production. The adrenal of the adult responds to stress in many instances like that of the fetus: increased cortisol secretion and diminished DHEA/DS secretion. The mechanisms for this divergence in the adrenocortical pathway is unknown. With aging, there is suppression of DHEA/DS secretion, possibly as the consequence of an involution of the zona reticularis, but corticosteroid production continues unabated.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Steroids  Journal
  • Keywords

  • Adrenal Glands, Adult, Aging, Child, Dehydroepiandrosterone, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Female, Fetus, Humans, Pregnancy
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Parker CR
  • Start Page

  • 640
  • End Page

  • 647
  • Volume

  • 64
  • Issue

  • 9