The steroid hormone biosynthesis pathway as a target for endocrine-disrupting chemicals

The secretion of cortisol is mainly controlled by three inter-communicating regions of the body, the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland . This is called the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. When cortisol levels in the blood are low, a group of cells in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone , which causes the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone , into the bloodstream. High levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone are detected in the adrenal glands and stimulate the secretion of cortisol, causing blood levels of cortisol to rise. As the cortisol levels rise, they start to block the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary. As a result the adrenocorticotropic hormone levels start to drop, which then leads to a drop in cortisol levels. This is called a negative feedback loop.

Cells of the zona fasciculata and zona reticularis lack aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) that converts corticosterone to aldosterone, and thus these tissues produce only the weak mineralocorticoid corticosterone. However, both these zones do contain the CYP17A1 missing in zona glomerulosa and thus produce the major glucocorticoid, cortisol. Zona fasciculata and zona reticularis cells also contain CYP17A1, whose 17,20-lyase activity is responsible for producing the androgens, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione. Thus, fasciculata and reticularis cells can make corticosteroids and the adrenal androgens, but not aldosterone.

Because steroids are lipophilic, they diffuse easily through the cell membranes, and therefore have a very large distribution volume. In their target tissues, steroids are concentrated by an uptake mechanism which relies on their binding to intracellular proteins (or " receptors ", see below). High concentration of steroids are also found in adipose tissue, although this is not a target for hormone action. In the human male, adipose tissue contains aromatase activity, and seems to be the main source of androgen-derived estrogens found in the circulation. But most of the peripheral metabolism occurs in the liver and to some extent in the kidneys, which are the major sites of hormone inactivation and elimination, or catabolism (see below).

Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is thought to mainly function as a transporter and reservoir for the estradiol and testosterone sex hormones. However it has also been demonstrated that SHBG can bind to a cell surface receptor (SHBG-R). The SHBG-R has not been completely characterized. A subset of steroids are able to bind to the SHBG/SHBG-R complex resulting in an activation of adenylyl cyclase and synthesis of the cAMP second messenger. [19] Hence the SHBG/SHBG-R complex appears to act as a transmembrane steroid receptor that is capable of transmitting signals to the interior of cells.

Progestins , the most important of which is progesterone , are the other type of female sex hormone and are named for their role in maintaining pregnancy (pro- gestation ). Estrogens and progestins are secreted cyclically during menstruation . During the menstrual cycle , the ruptured ovarian follicle (the corpus luteum ) of the ovary produces progesterone, which renders the uterine lining receptive to the implantation of a fertilized ovum . Should this occur, the placenta becomes the main source of progesterone, without which the pregnancy would terminate. As pregnancy progresses, placental production of progesterone increases, and these high doses suppress ovulation , preventing a second conception . The contraceptive quality of progesterone led to the development of structurally modified progestins and estrogens—the oral contraceptives known as birth-control pills, used by women to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

The steroid hormone biosynthesis pathway as a target for endocrine-disrupting chemicals

the steroid hormone biosynthesis pathway as a target for endocrine-disrupting chemicals

Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is thought to mainly function as a transporter and reservoir for the estradiol and testosterone sex hormones. However it has also been demonstrated that SHBG can bind to a cell surface receptor (SHBG-R). The SHBG-R has not been completely characterized. A subset of steroids are able to bind to the SHBG/SHBG-R complex resulting in an activation of adenylyl cyclase and synthesis of the cAMP second messenger. [19] Hence the SHBG/SHBG-R complex appears to act as a transmembrane steroid receptor that is capable of transmitting signals to the interior of cells.

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