Adrenarche in nonhuman primates: the evidence for it and the need to redefine it.
Adrenarche is most commonly defined as a prepubertal increase in circulating adrenal androgens, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfo-conjugate (DHEAS). This event is thought to have evolved in humans and some great apes but not in Old World monkeys, perhaps to promote brain development. Whether adrenarche represents a shared, derived developmental event in humans and our closest relatives, adrenal androgen secretion (and its regulation) is of considerable clinical interest. Specifically, adrenal androgens play a significant role in the pathophysiology of polycystic ovarian disease and breast and prostate cancers. Understanding the development of androgen secretion by the human adrenal cortex and identifying a suitable model for its study are therefore of central importance for clinical and evolutionary concerns. This review will examine the evidence for adrenarche in nonhuman primates (NHP) and suggest that a broader definition of this developmental event is needed, including morphological, biochemical, and endocrine criteria. Using such a definition, evidence from recent studies suggests that adrenarche evolved in Old World primates but spans a relatively brief period early in development compared with humans and some great apes. This emphasizes the need for frequent longitudinal sampling in evaluating developmental changes in adrenal androgen secretion as well as the tenuous nature of existing evidence of adrenarche in some species among the great apes. Central to an understanding of the regulation of adrenal androgen production in humans is the recognition of the complex nature of adrenarche and the need for more carefully conducted comparative studies and a broader definition in order to promote investigation among NHP in particular.