Objective: Circulating adrenal steroids rise during the menopausal transition in most middle-aged women and may contribute to differences in between-women symptoms and ultimate health outcomes. However, the mechanisms for this shift in adrenal steroid production in middle-aged women are not known. This study aims to determine whether hormone therapy (HT) for 1 year can modulate adrenal androgen production.
Methods: Younger (9.8 [0.4] years, n = 20) and older (22.7 [0.4] years, n = 37) female laboratory macaques were ovariectomized, and each group was treated with different regimens of HT for up to 1 year. Changes in adrenal histology and circulating adrenal androgens were monitored after estrogen-alone (E) or estrogen plus progesterone (E + P) treatment, and these changes were compared with the same measures in similarly aged animals given vehicle.
Results: Zona reticularis area, serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) were higher in younger vehicle-treated animals compared with older vehicle-treated animals (P < 0.02). Both E and E + P treatments decreased circulating DHEAS in the younger group (P < 0.05). Although E treatment also decreased DHEAS in the older group, this was not statistically significant. In contrast, E + P treatment in the older group resulted in a rise in DHEAS over vehicle, which was significantly higher than the results of E treatment (P < 0.01). Circulating concentrations of DHEA exhibited similar trends, but these changes did not reach statistical significance.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that intervention with ovarian steroids can modulate adrenal androgen production in female higher primates and that both animal age and type of HT regimen determine adrenal response.