Background: While menopause results in the loss of cyclic steroid production, evidence exists for persistent, albeit reduced, ovarian androgen production. In order to continue to synthesize ovarian androgens, the steroidogenic enzymes necessary for androgen biosynthesis must be present. Few studies have selectively analysed some of the steroidogenic enzymes present in the post-menopausal ovary (PMO), and a comprehensive study of this matter has never been undertaken.
Methods: RNA and protein were obtained from PMO, pre-menopausal ovarian stroma, corpora lutea (CL), ovarian follicles, placenta, and myometrium. Oligonucleotide microarray analysis was performed to compare the gene expression profiles of PMO with pre-menopausal ovarian stroma. Real-time RT-PCR was performed for LH/HCG receptor (LHCGR), steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR), cholesterol side-chain cleavage (CYP11A), 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type I (HSD3B1) and type II (HSD3B2, 3betaHSD), 17a-hydroxylase (CYP17), cytochrome b5 (CytB5), and aromatase (CYP19). Western blot analysis was performed for StAR, CYP11A, CYP17,and 3betaHSD.
Results: The PMO and pre-menopausal ovarian stroma had a similar pattern of steroidogenic enzyme expression. The PMO had persistent, but reduced, levels of LHCGR and most steroidogenic enzymes. CYP19 and HSD3B2 mRNA were greatly reduced in PMO in comparison with CL (50-fold and 2000-fold less respectively). HSD3B2 was not detectable in PMO by western analysis.
Conclusions: This study supports the idea that the PMO retains some steroidogenic capacity. However, based on steroidogenic enzyme expression, the PMO has a unique pattern of steroidogenic enzyme expression that favors Delta5 steroid formation over Delta4 steroid formation.