In vitro enzyme assays have demonstrated that human type 10 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17beta-HSD10) catalyzes the oxidation of 5alpha-androstane-3alpha,17beta-diol (adiol), an almost inactive androgen, to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) rather than androsterone or androstanedione. To further investigate the role of this steroid-metabolizing enzyme in intact cells, we produced stable transfectants expressing 17beta-HSD10 or its catalytically inactive Y168F mutant in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells. It was found that DHT levels in HEK 293 cells expressing 17beta-HSD10, but not its catalytically inactive mutant, will dramatically increase if adiol is added to culture media. Moreover, certain malignant prostatic epithelial cells have more 17beta-HSD10 than normal controls, and can generate DHT, the most potent androgen, from adiol. This event might promote prostate cancer growth. Analysis of the 17beta-HSD10 sequence shows that this enzyme does not have any ER retention signal or transmembrane segments and has not originated by divergence from a retinol dehydrogenase. The data suggest that the unique mitochondrial location of this HSD [Eur. J. Biochem. 268 (2001) 4899] does not prevent it from oxidizing the 3alpha-hydroxyl group of a C19 sterol in living cells. The experimental results lead to the conclusion that mitochondrial 17beta-HSD10 plays a significant part in a non-classical androgen synthesis pathway along with microsomal retinol dehydrogenases.