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Baillieres Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Apr;12(1):67-81.

Early steps in androgen biosynthesis: from cholesterol to DHEA.

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Department of Paediatrics, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0978, USA.


Sex steroids, both androgens and oestrogens, are made from dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The biosynthesis of DHEA from cholesterol entails four steps. First, cholesterol enters the mitochondria with the assistance of a recently described factor called the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). Mutations in the StAR gene cause congenital lipoid adrenal hyperplasia. Next, cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone by the cholesterol side chain cleavage enzyme, P450scc. Mutations in the gene for P450scc and for its electron transfer partners, ferredoxin reductase and ferredoxin, have not been described and are probably incompatible with term gestation. Third, pregnenolone undergoes 17 alpha-hydroxylation by microsomal P450c17. Finally, 17-OH pregnenolone is converted to DHEA by the 17,20 lyase activity of P450c17. Isolated 17,20 lyase deficiency is rare, but the identification of its genetic basis and the study of P450c17 enzymology have recently clarified the mechanisms by which DHEA synthesis may be regulated in adrenarche, and have suggested that the lesion underlying polycystic ovary syndrome might involve a serine kinase.

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