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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1996 Aug;81(8):2801-4.

Hormonal responses during various phases of autoimmune adrenal failure: no evidence for 21-hydroxylase enzyme activity inhibition in vivo.

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  • 1Division of Endocrinology, University of Padova, Italy.


Adrenal autoantibodies (ACA) are markers of adrenal cortex involvement in idiopathic Addison's disease. Recently the 21-hydroxylase (21-OH) enzyme has been discovered to be the major autoantigen of the ACA. A potential role of these antibodies in determining adrenal failure by inhibition of the 21-OH has been recently postulated. To test this hypothesis, cortisol and aldosterone (final products of adrenal steroid synthesis) and 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OH-progesterone) (as a marker of 21-OH impairment) have been investigated in baseline conditions and after ACTH (1-24) stimulation test in a group of 42 patients positive for both ACA and 21-OH autoantibodies. Patients were divided into five groups according to the stages (0-4) of adrenal failure. With progression toward overt Addison's disease, baseline 17-OH-progesterone, cortisol, and aldosterone remained almost unchanged but with impairment of their responses to ACTH (1-24) stimulation. The 17-OH-progesterone/cortisol ration remained normal both in basal conditions and after stimulation at stages 0-3. At stage 4 (overt Addison's disease), this ratio increased in baseline condition with no changes after ACTH (1-24), probably because of persistent 17-OH-progesterone gonadal production. In conclusion, there was a progressive and concomitant impairment of the synthesis of all steroids tested over various phases of adrenal failure. The pattern of response of the 17-OH-progesterone/cortisol ratio to ACTH stimulation in patients with 21-OH autoantibodies was not consistent with the autoantibodies inhibiting the 21-OH activity. This suggests that the inhibiting effect of 21-OH autoantibodies on 21-OH activity is not usually evident in vivo.

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