Androgen-activating enzymes in the central nervous system

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. Apr-Jun 1999;69(1-6):117-22. doi: 10.1016/s0960-0760(98)00150-2.


In the rat brain, several steroids can be converted by specific enzymes to either more potent compounds or to derivatives showing new biological effects. One of the most studied enzyme is the 5alpha-reductase (5alpha-R), which acts on 3keto-delta4 steroids. In males, testosterone is the main substrate and gives rise to the most potent natural androgen dihydrotestosterone. In females, progesterone is reduced to dihydroprogesterone, a precursor of allopregnanolone, a natural anxiolytic/anesthetic steroid. Other substrates are some gluco- and minero-corticoids. Two isoforms of the 5alpha-R, with limited degree of homology, have been cloned: 5alpha-R type 1 and type 2. The 5alpha-R type 1 possesses low affinity for the various substrates and is widely distributed in the body, with the highest levels in the liver; in the brain, this isoform is expressed throughout life and does not appear to be controlled by androgens. 5Alpha-R type 1 in the rat brain is mainly concentrated in myelin membranes, where it might be involved in the catabolism of potentially neurotoxic steroids. The 5alpha-R type 2 shows high affinity for the various substrates, a peculiar pH optimum at acidic values and is localized in androgen-dependent structures. In the rat brain, the type 2 isoform is expressed at high levels only in the perinatal period and is controlled by androgens, at least in males. In adulthood, the type 2 gene appears to be specifically expressed in localised brain regions, like the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. The 5alpha-R type 2 is present in the GT1 cells, a model of LHRH-secreting neurons. These cells also contain the androgen receptor, which is probably involved in the central negative feedback effect exerted by androgens on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. The physiological significance of these and additional data will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / enzymology*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Androgens
  • Isoenzymes
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase