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Endocr Res. 2002 Nov;28(4):641-5.

Steroidogenic enzyme expression within the adrenal cortex during early human gestation.

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Division of Human Genetics, Southampton University, Southampton, UK.


Aberrant adrenocortical function during the first trimester of human fetal development underlies the severe virilization of congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to cytochrome P450 21-hydroxylase (CYP21) deficiency. Although valuable information of human adrenocortical development after 12 weeks gestation is available, less is known earlier in pregnancy. In our studies, the adrenal cortex was first detected in human embryos by hematoxylin and eosin staining at 33 days post-conception (dpc) with distinction between the definitive and fetal zones possible at 52 dpc. Vascular development was apparent within the adrenal gland at 41 dpc. CYP11A and CYP17 were expressed centrally within the fetal zone at 50 dpc and all later time points during the first trimester. Weaker CYP11A immunoreactivity also was visible in the outer region of the adrenal cortex consistent with definitive zone expression. In this location, immunoreactivity was observed for 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and the proliferation marker, Ki67. These data raise the possibility of de novo cortisol biosynthesis during the first trimester of human development and are relevant to the pathophysiology of 46,XX virilization in CYP21 deficiency.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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