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3-Beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Deficiency Clinical Presentation

  • Author: J Paul Frindik, MD, FACE; Chief Editor: Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD  more...
Updated: Jun 16, 2016


Various clinical presentations occur.

  • The first, and most common, is that of a newborn (male or female) with adrenal insufficiency due to both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid deficiency. A history of ambiguous genitalia coupled with signs of adrenal insufficiency (ie, circulatory collapse, low serum sodium, high serum potassium) suggests either 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3BHSD) deficiency or another error in adrenal biosynthesis. Patients with less severe non–salt-wasting forms may be relatively asymptomatic as infants.
  • The second presentation in older patients with an apparent mild defect in 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity (late-onset or nonclassic variant) includes premature pubic hair development in young children or irregular menstrual cycles and hirsutism in postpubertal adolescent females. One adolescent female presented with primary amenorrhea.
  • One report described 2 sisters with the classic variant (salt wasting in infancy) who were not diagnosed until later in life, when one sibling presented for evaluation of premature pubarche.[14] The second sibling had no pubarche or other signs of virilization. The siblings were first thought to have nonclassical 21-hydroxylase deficiency because of elevated 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone. However, gene sequencing of the CYP21 gene found that both sisters were only heterozygotes (V281L mutation). Gene sequencing results, history of salt wasting, and increased dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels suggested a variant 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency.
  • Infants may occasionally present with elevated 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone levels detected as a result of newborn screening for 21-hydroxylase deficiency.[15, 16]


Physical findings specific to female and male patients are as follows:

  • Females
    • Affected 46,XX newborns may appear to have normal anatomy or have varying degrees of clitoromegaly and labial fusion.
    • Signs of mild androgen excess may occur in older children, including acne, premature pubarche,[17] and advanced linear and skeletal growth.
    • Adolescent or older women may present with hirsutism and mild clitoromegaly. Internally, polycystic ovaries may be present.
  • Males
    • Most newborn 46,XY individuals are incompletely masculinized and have varying degrees of hypospadias. Testes are usually palpable.
    • Patients with milder defects may present as adolescents with ambiguous genitalia and poor virilization. However, virilization or spontaneous puberty has been reported in some males.
    • Gynecomastia is a common finding in pubertal males.


3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.

  • 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase is encoded by an 8-kb gene located on the p11-13 region of chromosome 1.
  • Two isoenzymes of 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase have been described, differing by only 23 amino acids. Type I 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase isoenzyme occurs in the peripheral tissues, primarily the liver but including the aorta, and type II 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase almost exclusively occurs in the gonads and adrenal glands.
  • Type I 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase isoenzyme is normal in patients with type II 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency. At least 31 different mutations in the type II 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase gene have been identified in 32 unrelated families with 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency.
  • Patients with classic salt-losing 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency have been shown to have various mutations, including splicing (1 patient), in-frame (1 patient), nonsense (3 patients), frameshift (4 patients), and missense (22 patients) mutations in the type II 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase gene with no mutation in the type I gene.
  • No functional 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II enzyme is found in the adrenals or gonads of patients with severe salt-losing disease. The non–salt-losing form can occur with a missense mutation causing only partial deficiency in enzyme activity.[18]
  • Different missense mutations of the type II 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase gene have been identified in female patients with late-onset 3-beta–hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency.
Contributor Information and Disclosures

J Paul Frindik, MD, FACE Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine

J Paul Frindik, MD, FACE is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Barry B Bercu, MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, University of South Florida College of Medicine, All Children's Hospital

Barry B Bercu, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Medical Association, American Pediatric Society, Association of Clinical Scientists, Endocrine Society, Florida Medical Association, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Society for Pediatric Research, Society for the Study of Reproduction, American Federation for Clinical Research, Pituitary Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD Former Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine, Arkansas Children's Hospital

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Southern Medical Association, Southern Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Phyllis W Speiser, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York; Professor of Pediatrics, Hofstra-North Shore LIJ School of Medicine at Hofstra University

Phyllis W Speiser, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Normal adrenal steroid biosynthesis results in 3 products: mineralocorticoid (aldosterone), glucocorticoids (cortisol), and androgens (androstenedione). Cortisol production is regulated by feedback with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the enzyme P-450scc (20,22 desmolase) with subsequent increased production of all adrenal steroids.
Representation of typical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). In this example, both the mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid pathways are deficient. Decreased serum cortisol levels stimulate adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) release via negative feedback. Increased ACTH secretion results in overproduction of adrenal steroids preceding the missing enzyme as well as those not requiring the missing enzyme. In this example, a deficiency of 21-hydroxylase results in deficient mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid production and excessive androgen production.
3-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3BHSD) is required for the synthesis of all three groups of adrenal steroids: mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and sex steroids. 3BHSD catalyzes the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone (mineralocorticoid pathway), 17-alpha-hydroxypregnenolone to 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone (glucocorticoid pathway), and dehydroepiandrosterone to androstenedione (sex steroid pathway). Complete absence of this enzyme thus impairs all steroid production. 17OH Preg = 17-alpha-hydroxypregnenolone; DHEA = Dehydroepiandrosterone; 17OH Prog = 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone; Andros = Androstenedione; DOC = Deoxycorticosterone; Cmp S = Compound S.
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