University of Oulu

Sex steroid metabolism in the placenta and the breast

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Author: Li, Yan1,2,3
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Research Center for Molecular Endocrinology
2University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research on Reproductive Health
3University of Oulu, Biocenter Oulu
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2004
Publish Date: 2004-02-20
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium 9 of Oulu University Hospital, on February 20th, 2004, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Docent Paavo Honkakoski
Professor Jorma Toppari


The biosynthesis and metabolism of sex steroids are controlled by a series of steroidogenic enzymes. In the placenta and the breast, 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (3β-HSD1) is essential for the synthesis of all steroid hormones by catalyzing pregnenolone to progesterone (P) or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to androstenedione (A-dione). P450 aromatase (P450arom) converts androgens to estrogens and is therefore critical for estrogen production. 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (17HSDs) are a group of enzymes responsible for the interconversion between low-activity 17-ketosteroids and high-activity 17β-hydroxysteroids, thus acting as key enzymes modulating the biosynthesis and metabolism of both estrogens and androgens.

In situ hybridization assays showed that 3β-HSD1, P450arom and 17HSD1, 2, 5 and 7 are expressed in early and mid-gestation placentas. Abundant expressions of 3β-HSD1, P450arom and 17HSD1 were seen in syncytiotrophoblast (ST) cells. Signals of these three enzymes were also detected in some column cytotrophoblast (CCT) cells. 17HSD2 and 5 were located in intravillous stromal (IS) cells, whereas 17HSD7 mRNA was present in all types of placental cells. This suggests that the human placenta produces not only P and estrogens, but also androgens. Moreover, the placenta possesses a function, by the action of 17HSD2, to protect the fetus and the maternal body from excessive sex steroid influence.

In tubal pregnancy, P450arom and 17HSD1 were found in ST cells, implying an estrogen biosynthesis mechanism similar to that in normal intrauterine pregnancy. In both JEG-3 choriocarcinoma cell line and cultured normal human cytotrophoblast (CTB) cells, retinoic acids were shown to promote the enzyme activity as well as mRNA expression of P450arom and 17HSD1, and hence their action on the biosynthesis of E2.

The mRNA expressions of 17HSD1, 2 and 5 in 794 breast carcinoma specimens were analyzed and correlated with ERα, ERβ, PR, Ki67, c-erbB2 and clinical parameters. 17HSD1, 2 and 5 were detected in epithelial cells in normal and malignant breast tissues. In breast cancer specimens, the positive cases for 17HSD1, 2 and 5 were 16%, 25% and 65%, respectively. 17HSD1 was found to be an independent prognostic marker of the progression of breast cancer.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-7281-1
ISBN Print: 951-42-7280-3
Issue: 778
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2004. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.