Sulfonation and molecular action

Endocr Rev. 2002 Oct;23(5):703-32. doi: 10.1210/er.2001-0040.


The sulfonation of endogenous molecules is a pervasive biological phenomenon that is not always easily understood, and although it is increasingly recognized as a function of fundamental importance, there remain areas in which significant cognizance is still lacking or at most minimal. This is particularly true in the field of endocrinology, in which the sulfoconjugation of hormones is a widespread occurrence that is only partially, if at all, appreciated. In the realm of steroid/sterol sulfoconjugation, the discovery of a novel gene that utilizes an alternative exon 1 to encode for two sulfotransferase isoforms, one of which sulfonates cholesterol and the other pregnenolone, has been an important advance. This is significant because cholesterol sulfate plays a crucial role in physiological systems such as keratinocyte differentiation and development of the skin barrier, and pregnenolone sulfate is now acknowledged as an important neurosteroid. The sulfonation of thyroglobulin and thyroid hormones has been extensively investigated and, although this transformation is better understood, there remain areas of incomplete comprehension. The sulfonation of catecholamines is a prevalent modification that has been extensively studied but, unfortunately, remains poorly understood. The sulfonation of pituitary glycoprotein hormones, especially LH and TSH, does not affect binding to their cognate receptors; however, sulfonation does play an important role in their plasma clearance, which indirectly has a significant effect on biological activity. On the other hand, the sulfonation of distinct neuroendocrine peptides does have a profound influence on receptor binding and, thus, a direct effect on biological activity. The sulfonation of specific extracellular structures plays an essential role in the binding and signaling of a large family of extracellular growth factors. In summary, sulfonation is a ubiquitous posttranslational modification of hormones and extracellular components that can lead to dramatic structural changes in affected molecules, the biological significance of which is now beginning to be appreciated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biotransformation
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multienzyme Complexes / chemistry
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism
  • Peptide Hormones / metabolism
  • Phosphoadenosine Phosphosulfate / analysis
  • Phosphoadenosine Phosphosulfate / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Steroids / metabolism
  • Sterols / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship*
  • Sulfate Adenylyltransferase / chemistry
  • Sulfate Adenylyltransferase / metabolism
  • Sulfonic Acids / metabolism*
  • Sulfotransferases / metabolism
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology


  • Catecholamines
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Peptide Hormones
  • Steroids
  • Sterols
  • Sulfonic Acids
  • Phosphoadenosine Phosphosulfate
  • PAPS synthetase
  • Sulfate Adenylyltransferase
  • Sulfotransferases