Crucial role of cytokines in sex steroid formation in normal and tumoral tissues

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2001 Jan 22;171(1-2):25-40. doi: 10.1016/s0303-7207(00)00387-7.


There is evidence suggesting that local intracrine formation of sex steroids from inactive precursors, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), its sulfate (DHEA-S) and 4-androstenedione (4-DIONE) plays an important role in the regulation of growth and function of peripheral target tissues. Moreover, human solid tumors are often infiltrated by stromal/immune cells secreting a wide spectra of cytokines. These cytokines might in turn regulate the activity of both immune and neoplastic cells. Our data demonstrate that the potent regulatory effects of interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-6 on both estrogenic and androgenic 17beta-HSD/KSR activities in breast cancer cells depend on the cell-specific gene expression of various types of 17beta-HSD/KSR enzymes. However, in both estrogen-receptor (ER)-positive (ZR-75-1, T-47D) and ER-negative (MDA-MB-231, BT-20) human breast cancer cells, exposure to IL-4 and IL-13 caused a rapid and potent induction of 3beta-HSD type 1 gene expression. Such an induction was also observed in normal human mammary and prostate epithelial cells in primary culture as well as in human HaCaT immortalized keratinocytes, ME-180 cervix cancer cells, and HT-29 colon cancer cells. The DNA-binding activity of Stat6, a member of the Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription gene family, was activated after a 30 min exposure to IL-4 in all the cell types where IL-4 induced 3beta-HSD expression, but not in those that failed to respond to IL-4. Our data therefore suggest that IL-4 and IL-13 may play a role in the biosynthesis of active sex steroids from the inactive adrenal steroid DHEA, not only in breast cells but also in various cell types derived from peripheral target tissues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • Interleukins / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Interleukins
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases