Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a specific steroid-binding plasma glycoprotein regulated by several factors. Sex steroids are currently considered to be the main physiological regulators of this protein. SHBG levels, in fact, increase during estrogen treatment and decrease after androgen administration. It is well known, however, that in many physiological and pathological conditions SHBG concentrations cannot be explained only on the basis of steroidal control mechanisms. The regulation of SHBG levels is in fact more complex and other factors can also affectsits plasma values. Between the steroidal factors our attention was focused on the role of androgens, of glandular and peripheral origin, in their capacity to lower SHBG plasma levels. We studied hyperandrogenic conditions in prepubertal (65 subjects with precocious adrenarche and 16 girls with prepubertal hypertrichosis, aged between 4 and 8 years) and in adult age (51 hirsute patients aged between 14-35 years and 51 acneic patients aged between 15-40 years). The effects of dexamethasone and ACTH administration on SHBG plasma levels were also evaluated. The results obtained showed that in adult hyperandrogenic patients SHBG levels, significantly lower than in controls, were not always inversely correlated with androgen levels, which, on the contrary, were higher than in controls. In patients with precocious adrenarche we found an inverse correlation only between SHBG, which was significantly lower than normal, and body mass index or bone age but not with androgens, suggesting that in this condition other factors may be more relevant than steroids in SHBG regulation. Between the non-steroidal factors our attention focused on insulin. We studied 40 non-obese hyperandrogenic patients with or without ultrasonographic evidence of polycystic ovaries, aged 18-39 years, and 35 obese patients, aged 19-37 years, with or without hyperandrogenism or evidence of PCO. Low levels of SHBG were found not only in hyperandrogenic obese patients but also in obese patients with normal androgens. It is possible to conclude that (1) several factors (calorie intake, energy balance and growth factors), other than steroids, may be involved in the regulation of SHBG levels in plasma; and (2) each regulating factor may act to a different extent depending on the various periods of the life cycle. © 1992.
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