Brain androgen and progesterone metabolizing enzymes: biosynthesis, distribution and function

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2001 Nov;37(1-3):25-37. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(01)00111-4.


This review summarizes the biosynthesis, cell type-distribution and function of brain aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450aro) and 5alpha-reductase enzymes. This overview covers the impact of the steroid products of the P450aro and 5alpha-reductase enzymes in establishing sexually dimorphic brain structures, specifically the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN) and the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV). Additionally, since metabolites of the P450aro and 5alpha-reductase enzymes are known to regulate the calcium-binding protein, calbindin (CALB), CALB is reviewed in relationship to its potential role in determining sexually dimorphic brain structures. Finally, recent reports indicate that phytoestrogens inhibit P450aro and 5alpha-reductase activities in peripheral tissue sites, therefore, the effects of phytoestrogens on brain P450aro and 5alpha-reductase are briefly considered and the impact of consuming a high vs. a low phytoestrogen diet on visual spatial memory in male and female rats is presented.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Aromatase / metabolism*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Calbindins
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones*
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics


  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Androgens
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Calbindins
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G
  • Progesterone
  • Aromatase
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase