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Vertebrate reproductive science and technology

The role of 5a-reduction in steroid hormone physiology

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 13(8) 673 - 678
Published: 08 February 2002


A role for 5α-reduction in androgen physiology was first established with the recognition that dihydrotestosterone, the 5α-reduced metabolite of testosterone, is formed in many androgen target tissues, binds to the androgen receptor with greater affinity than testosterone, and plays an essential role in virilization of the urogenital sinus and urogenital tubercle during male development. Two 5α-reductases perform this reaction, and both isoenzymes utilize NADPH as cofactor and have broad specificity for steroids containing a Δ4, 3-keto configuration. 5α-Reduction, which is essentially irreversible, flattens the steroid molecule because of altered relation of the A and B rings, and stabilizes the hormone–receptor complex. Studies involving in vitro reporter gene assays and intact mice in which both isoenzymes are disrupted, indicate that the fundamental effect of dihydrotestosterone formation is to amplify hormonal signals that can be mediated by testosterone at higher concentrations. 5α-Reduction also plays a role in the action of other steroid hormones, including the plant growth hormone, brassinolide, the boar pheromones, androstanol and androstenol, progesterone (in some species), and, possibly, aldosterone and cortisol. The fact that the reaction is important in plants and animals implies a fundamental role in steroid hormone action.

© CSIRO 2002

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