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Steroids. 1998 May-Jun;63(5-6):322-8.

DHEA and the intracrine formation of androgens and estrogens in peripheral target tissues: its role during aging.

Author information

1
Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, CHUL (Le Centre Hospitalier de l'Université Laval) Research Center, Québec, Canada. fernand.labrie@crchul.ulaval.ca

Abstract

Human and some other primates are unique since their adrenals secrete large amounts of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate (DHEA-S), which are converted into androstenedione (4-dione) and then into potent androgens and estrogens in peripheral tissues, therefore providing autonomous intracrine control to target tissues that can adjust the formation and metabolism of active sex steroids according to local requirements. Knowledge in this area has recently made rapid progress with the elucidation of the structure of most of the tissue-specific cDNAs and genes that encode the steroidogenic enzymes responsible for the transformation of these inactive precursor steroids into androgens and/or estrogens. It is estimated that 30 to 50% of total androgens in men are synthesized in peripheral intracrine tissues from inactive adrenal precursors while, in women, peripheral estrogen formation is even more important, the best estimate being 75% before menopause and 100% after menopause. The marked reduction in the formation of DHEA-S by the adrenals during aging, especially before the age of 50 years, results in a dramatic fall in the formation of active sex steroids in peripheral target tissues, a situation which is thought to be associated with a long series of age-related decreases such as insulin resistance, obesity, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, loss of muscle mass, cancer and other diseases. We have demonstrated for the first time a series of medically important beneficial effects of DHEA administered for 12 months to post-menopausal women. Most interestingly, the bone mineral density significantly increased. This relatively rapid change was associated with an increase in plasma osteocalcin, a marker of bone formation, while a decrease in bone resorption reflected by a decrease in urinary hydroxyproline excretion was observed in parallel. In addition, the estrogenic stimulation of vaginal cytology in the absence of any sign of stimulatory effect on the endometrium is also of potentially major interest for the prevention and management of menopause. Furthermore, the inhibitory effect of DHEA on the growth of human breast cancer xenografts in vivo in nude mice supports the beneficial use of DHEA as hormone replacement therapy in women.

PMID:
9618795
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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