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Reviewed April 2014
What is aromatase deficiency?
Aromatase deficiency is a condition characterized by reduced levels of the female sex hormone estrogen and increased levels of the male sex hormone testosterone.
Females with aromatase deficiency have a typical female chromosome pattern (46,XX) but are born with external genitalia that do not appear clearly female or male (ambiguous genitalia). These individuals typically have normal internal reproductive organs, but develop ovarian cysts early in childhood, which impair the release of egg cells from the ovaries (ovulation). In adolescence, most affected females do not develop secondary sexual characteristics, such as breast growth and menstrual periods. They tend to develop acne and excessive body hair growth (hirsutism).
Men with this condition have a typical male chromosome pattern (46,XY) and are born with male external genitalia. Some men with this condition have decreased sex drive, abnormal sperm production, or testes that are small or undescended (cryptorchidism).
There are other features associated with aromatase deficiency that can affect both males and females. Affected individuals are abnormally tall because of excessive growth of long bones in the arms and legs. The abnormal bone growth results in slowed mineralization of bones (delayed bone age) and thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), which can lead to bone fractures with little trauma. Males and females with aromatase deficiency can have abnormally high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) because the body does not respond correctly to the hormone insulin. In addition, they can have excessive weight gain and a fatty liver.
Women who are pregnant with fetuses that have aromatase deficiency often experience mild symptoms of the disorder even though they themselves do not have the disorder. These women may develop hirsutism, acne, an enlarged clitoris (clitoromegaly), and a deep voice. These features can appear as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy and go away soon after delivery.
How common is aromatase deficiency?
The prevalence of aromatase deficiency is unknown; approximately 20 cases have been described in the medical literature.
What genes are related to aromatase deficiency?
Mutations in the CYP19A1 gene cause aromatase deficiency. The CYP19A1 gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called aromatase. This enzyme converts a class of hormones called androgens, which are involved in male sexual development, to different forms of estrogen. In females, estrogen guides female sexual development before birth and during puberty. In both males and females, estrogen plays a role in regulating bone growth and blood sugar levels. During fetal development, aromatase converts androgens to estrogens in the placenta, which is the link between the mother's blood supply and the fetus. This conversion in the placenta prevents androgens from directing sexual development in female fetuses. After birth, the conversion of androgens to estrogens takes place in multiple tissues.
CYP19A1 gene mutations that cause aromatase deficiency decrease or eliminate aromatase activity. A shortage of functional aromatase results in an inability to convert androgens to estrogens before birth and throughout life. As a result, there is a decrease in estrogen production and an increase in the levels of androgens, including testosterone. In affected individuals, these abnormal hormone levels lead to impaired female sexual development, unusual bone growth, insulin resistance, and other signs and symptoms of aromatase deficiency. In women who are pregnant with an affected fetus, excess androgens in the placenta pass into the woman's bloodstream, which may cause her to have temporary signs and symptoms of aromatase deficiency.
Read more about the CYP19A1 gene.
How do people inherit aromatase deficiency?
This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of aromatase deficiency?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of aromatase deficiency and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about aromatase deficiency?
You may find the following resources about aromatase deficiency helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for aromatase deficiency?
What if I still have specific questions about aromatase deficiency?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding aromatase deficiency?
acne ; androgens ; autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cell ; chromosome ; class ; cryptorchidism ; cysts ; deficiency ; egg ; enzyme ; fatty liver ; fetus ; gene ; genitalia ; high blood sugar ; hirsutism ; hormone ; hyperglycemia ; inherited ; insulin ; insulin resistance ; osteoporosis ; ovarian ; ovary ; placenta ; polycystic ovary syndrome ; prevalence ; puberty ; recessive ; sex hormone ; sperm ; syndrome ; testes ; testosterone ; trauma
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (5 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.