Obesity-related alterations in the circulating steroid hormone profile remain equivocal in women. Our objective was to identify circulating steroid levels that relate to increased adiposity and altered adipose phenotype in premenopausal women.
Materials and methods
In a sample of 42 premenopausal women [age 46 ± 3 years; body mass index (BMI) 27.1 ± 4.2 kg/m2], 19 plasma steroids were quantified by electrospray ionization-liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectroscopy (ESI-LC-MS/MS). Body composition and fat distribution were assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and computed tomography (CT), respectively. Markers of adipose tissue function including adipocyte size distributions, radiological attenuation and macrophage infiltration were also analyzed in surgically obtained visceral and subcutaneous fat samples.
Many negative correlations were observed between adiposity measurements such as BMI, body fat percentage or total abdominal adipose tissue area and plasma levels of androstenedione (Δ4) (r = -0.33 to -0.39, p ≤ 0.04), androsterone (ADT) (r = -0.30 to -0.38, p ≤ 0.05) and steroid precursor pregnenolone (PREG) (r = -0.36 to -0.46, p ≤ 0.02). Visceral adipocyte hypertrophy was observed in patients with low PREG concentrations (p < 0.05). Visceral adipose tissue radiologic attenuation, a potential marker of adipocyte size, was also positively correlated with PREG levels (r = 0.33, p < 0.05). Low levels of PREG were related to increased number of macrophages infiltrating visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue (p < 0.05).
Plasma levels of androgens and their precursors are lower in women with increased adiposity and visceral adipocyte hypertrophy. Low circulating PREG concentration may represent a marker of adipose tissue dysfunction.