Enzymes involved in the formation and transformation of steroid hormones in the fetal and placental compartments

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2005 Dec;97(5):401-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2005.08.004. Epub 2005 Oct 3.


Human fetal and placental compartments have all the enzymatic systems necessary to produce steroid hormones. However, their activities are different and complementary: the fetus is very active in converting acetate into cholesterol, in transforming pregnanes to androstanes, various hydroxylases, sulfotransferases, whilst all these transformations are absent or very limited in the placenta. This compartment can transform cholesterol to C21-steroids, convert 5-ene to 4-ene steroids, and has a high capacity to aromatize C19 precursors and to hydrolyse sulfates. Steroid hormone receptors are present at an early stage of gestation and are functional for important physiological activities. The production rate of some steroids increases drastically with fetal evolution (e.g. estriol increases 500-1000 times in relation to non-pregnant women). We can hypothesize that the control of active steroid hormones could be carried out by fetal and placental factors, which act by stimulating or inhibiting the enzymes involved in their formation and transformation during pregnancy evolution and, consequently, limiting the high levels of the biologically active hormone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Estriol / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetus / enzymology*
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / biosynthesis
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mineralocorticoids / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Placenta / enzymology*
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / metabolism
  • Progestins / metabolism


  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Mineralocorticoids
  • Progestins
  • Progesterone
  • Cholesterol
  • Estriol