ABSTRACT: Adrenarche is a process of postnatal sexual maturation occurring in higher primates, in which there is an increase in the secretion of adrenal androgens. It is the consequence of a process of postnatal organogenesis characterized by the development of a new zone in the adrenal cortex, the zona reticularis (ZR). The mechanism of this phenomenon remains poorly understood, suggesting that it might be a multifactorial event. A relationship between circulating IGF-I, insulin sensitivity, and adrenal androgens has been postulated. Boys and girls have different patterns of changes in insulin sensitivity at puberty, perhaps secondary to differences in the estrogen milieu. Estrogen effects may also play a role in premature adrenarche. Peripheral or local IGF-1 actions could regulate adrenal progenitor cell proliferation and migration. Since adrenal progenitor cells as well as IGF-I and the IGF-R1 are located in the outer zone of the adrenal cortex during childhood and adolescence, this peripheral cell layer, below the capsule, may contain undifferentiated progenitor cells. Therefore, the IGF-R1 signaling pathway might positively modulate the proliferation and migration of adrenal progenitor cell to stimulate the development of adrenal zones, including ZR. However, no evidence of a direct action of IGF-I on ZR was found. In addition, a role for estrogens in the ontogenesis of ZR is suggested by the presence of aromatase (CYP19) in the subcapsular zona glomerulosa and in the adrenal medulla. Estrogens produced locally could act on ZR by interacting with estrogen receptor beta (ERbeta), but not alpha, and membrane estrogen receptor GPR-30. An estradiol-induced increase in DHEA/cortisol ratio was indeed seen in cultures of adrenocortical cells from post-adrenarche adrenals. In summary, several lines of evidence point to the action of multiple factors, such as local adrenal maturational changes and peripheral metabolic signals, on postnatal human adrenal gland ZR formation.
Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders 10/2008; 10(1):51-61. · 3.17 Impact Factor