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V Luu-The, F Bernier, and I Dufort


Human dehydroepiandrosterone sulfotransferase (DHEA-ST) catalyzes the sulfonation of DHEA, cholesterol, pregnenolone as well as androsterone. RNA blot analysis shows two DHEA-ST mRNA species of 1·3 and 1·8 kb that are expressed similarly in liver and adrenals. To determine whether the form expressed in adrenals is distinct or identical with the one expressed in liver, we have cloned and sequenced the 1·8 kb DHEA-ST cDNA from human adrenal cDNA library. Except for one nucleotide difference, the human adrenal and liver DHEA-ST cDNAs are identical. Using expression vectors containing the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene ligated to various fragments of the DHEA-ST gene promoter, we have shown that DHEA-ST gene promoter activity is stimulated by estradiol (E2). The E2 stimulation is inhibited by the anti-estrogen EM-139. In contrast to human DHEA-ST, guinea pig hydroxysteroid sulfotransferases show high substrate- and stereo-selectivity. We have cloned a chiral-specific pregnenolone sulfotransferase (PREG-ST) which catalyzes mainly the transformation of pregnenolone to pregnenolone sulfate.

Estrogen sulfotransferase catalyzes the conversion of estrone and estradiol to their inactive sulfated forms and could thus play a major role in the control of estrogen levels in target tissues. Recently, using a probe derived from bovine estrogen sulfotransferase, we have cloned a cDNA and gene that we first named human estrogen sulfotransferase (hEST) since the expressed enzyme is able to transform estrone to estrone sulfate. Actually, the Hugo nomenclature committee named this gene STM gene because it also codes for monoamine-sulfating phenolsulfotransferase (M-PST). hEST1 possesses the same coding and 3′-untranslated region as human brain aryl sulfotransferase (HAST) and M-PST, but different 5′-noncoding region. Analysis of hEST1 gene sequence indicates that hEST1 and HAST3 or M-PST mRNA species are transcribed from a single hEST1 gene by alternative promoters using two separate exon I, named exon la and exon Ib. We also described the identification of a third mRNA species (M-PSTγ) issued from the STM gene and the characterization of the structure of the phenol-sulfating phenolsulfotransferase (STP) gene that is highly homologous to the STM gene. Similar to STM, the STP gene generates multiple mRNA species that differ only in the 5′-untranslated sequence.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 150, S87–S97

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G Pelletier, V Luu-The, S Li, and F Labrie

Androgen receptors (AR) are highly expressed in female reproductive organs. In order to define the possible involvement of estrogens in the regulation of AR expression in the uterus and vagina, we have studied the effect of short-term administration of 17beta-estradiol (E2) to ovariectomized adult mice on AR mRNA levels. Seven days after ovariectomy, the mice received a single injection of E2 (0.05 microg/mouse) 3, 12 or 24 h before they were killed. The levels of AR mRNA were measured in the different uterine and vaginal compartments using quantitative in situ hybridization. In the uterus, AR mRNA was expressed in the luminal and glandular epithelial cells, stromal cells and smooth muscle cells. In the vagina, AR mRNA was localized in both epithelial and stromal cells. In the uterus after ovariectomy, AR mRNA levels were decreased by 18% in the epithelial cells, 23% in the stromal cells and 50% in the myometrial cells. AR mRNA levels were completely restored as early as 3 h after E2 administration in the epithelium and stroma, and at the 12-h time-interval in the myometrium. In the vaginal epithelium, ovariectomy induced a 70% decrease in AR mRNA expression. No effect could be detected 3 h after E2 administration, while at the longest time-intervals (12 and 24 h) there was an increase in mRNA levels corresponding to 70% of the levels observed in intact animals. In the vaginal stroma, ovariectomy was responsible for a 55% decrease in mRNA levels. While no significant changes were observed at the 3-h time-interval, a complete restoration of AR mRNA levels in stromal cells could be recorded at the longest time-intervals after E2 administration. The data obtained indicated that, in adult mice, estrogens exert a positive regulation of AR mRNA expression in the different compartments of both the uterus and the vagina.

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G Pelletier, S Li, V Luu-The, Y Tremblay, A Belanger, and F Labrie

The biosynthesis of steroid hormones in endocrine steroid-secreting glands results from a series of successive steps involving both cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are mixed-function oxidases, and steroid dehydrogenases. So far, the subcellular distribution of steroidogenic enzymes has been mostly studied following subcellular fractionation, performed in placenta and adrenal cortex. In order to determine in situ the intracellular distribution of some steroidogenic enzymes, we have investigated the ultrastructural localization of the three key enzymes: P450 side chain cleavage (scc) which converts cholesterol to pregnenolone; 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3 beta-HSD) which catalyzes the conversion of 3 beta-hydroxy-5-ene steroids to 3-oxo-4-ene steroids (progesterone and androstenedione); and P450(c17) which is responsible for the transformation of C(21) into C(19) steroids (dehydroepiandrosterone and androstenedione). Immunogold labeling was used to localize the enzymes in rat adrenal cortex and gonads. The tissues were fixed in 1% glutaraldehyde and 3% paraformaldehyde and included in LR gold resin. In the adrenal cortex, both P450(scc) and 3 beta-HSD immunoreactivities were detected in the reticular, fascicular and glomerular zones. P450(scc) was exclusively found in large mitochondria. In contrast, 3 beta-HSD antigenic sites were mostly observed in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) with some gold particles overlying crista and outer membranes of the mitochondria. P450(c17) could not be detected in adrenocortical cells. In the testis, the three enzymes were only found in Leydig cells. Immunolabeling for P450(scc) and 3 beta-HSD was restricted to mitochondria, while P450(c17) immunoreactivity was exclusively observed in ER. In the ovary, P450(scc) and 3 beta-HSD immunoreactivities were found in granulosa, theca interna and corpus luteum cells. The subcellular localization of the two enzymes was very similar to that observed in adrenocortical cells. P450(c17) could also be detected in theca interna cells of large developing and mature follicles. As observed in Leydig cells, P450(c17) immunolabeling could only be found in the ER. These results indicate that in different endocrine steroid-secreting cells P450(scc), 3 beta-HSD and P450(c17) have the same association with cytoplasmic organelles (with the exception of 3 beta-HSD in Leydig cells), suggesting similar intracellular pathways for biosynthesis of steroid hormones.

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F Labrie, V Luu-The, A Bélanger, S-X Lin, J Simard, G Pelletier, and C Labrie

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is not a hormone but it is a very important prohormone secreted in large amounts by the adrenals in humans and other primates, but not in lower species. It is secreted in larger quantities than cortisol and is present in the blood at concentrations only second to cholesterol. All the enzymes required to transform DHEA into androgens and/or estrogens are expressed in a cell-specific manner in a large series of peripheral target tissues, thus permitting all androgen-sensitive and estrogen-sensitive tissues to make locally and control the intracellular levels of sex steroids according to local needs. This new field of endocrinology has been called intracrinology. In women, after menopause, all estrogens and almost all androgens are made locally in peripheral tissues from DHEA which indirectly exerts effects, among others, on bone formation, adiposity, muscle, insulin and glucose metabolism, skin, libido and well-being. In men, where the secretion of androgens by the testicles continues for life, the contribution of DHEA to androgens has been best evaluated in the prostate where about 50% of androgens are made locally from DHEA. Such knowledge has led to the development of combined androgen blockade (CAB), a treatment which adds a pure anti-androgen to medical (GnRH agonist) or surgical castration in order to block the access of the androgens made locally to the androgen receptor. In fact, CAB has been the first treatment demonstrated to prolong life in advanced prostate cancer while recent data indicate that it can permit long-term control and probably cure in at least 90% of cases of localized prostate cancer. The new field of intracrinology or local formation of sex steroids from DHEA in target tissues has permitted major advances in the treatment of the two most frequent cancers, namely breast and prostate cancer, while its potential use as a physiological HRT could well provide a physiological balance of androgens and estrogens, thus offering exciting possibilities for women’s health at menopause.