Recognizing rare disorders: aromatase deficiency.
Aromatase deficiency is rare in humans. Affected individuals cannot synthesize endogenous estrogens. Aromatase is the enzyme that catalyzes conversion of androgens into estrogens, and if aromatase is nonfunctional because of an inactivating mutation, estrogen synthesis cannot occur. If the fetus lacks aromatase activity, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate produced by the fetal adrenal glands cannot be converted to estrogen by the placenta, so is converted to testosterone peripherally and results in virilization of both fetus and mother. Virilization manifests as pseudohermaphroditism in female infants, with hirsutism and acne in the mother; the maternal indicators resolve following delivery. To date, only seven males and seven females with aromatase deficiency have been reported. Affected females are typically diagnosed at birth because of the pseudohermaphroditism. Cystic ovaries and delayed bone maturation can occur during childhood and adolescence in these girls, who present at puberty with primary amenorrhea, failure of breast development, virilization, and hypergonadotrophic hypogonadism. Affected males, on the other hand, do not present with obvious defects at birth, so are diagnosed much later in life, presenting with clinical symptoms, which include tall stature, delayed skeletal maturation, delayed epiphyseal closure, bone pain, eunuchoid body proportions and excess adiposity. Estrogen replacement therapy reverses the symptoms in male and female patients.