Molecular docking simulations of steroid substrates into human cytosolic hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (AKR1C1 and AKR1C2): insights into positional and stereochemical preferences

Steroids. 2006 May;71(5):380-91. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Feb 7.


AKR1C1 and AKR1C2 are human cytosolic hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases, which play pivotal roles in the metabolism and action of natural and synthetic steroid hormones. The two enzymes are highly homologous, and have distinct positional and stereochemical preferences with various substrates. We performed molecular docking simulations of three steroid substrates, including an androgen (5alpha-dihydrotestosterone, DHT), a progestin (progesterone, PRO), and a synthetic hormone ([7alpha,17alpha]-17-hydroxy-7-methyl-19-norpregn-5(10)-en-20-yn-3-one or tibolone, TIB), into the active sites of the two enzymes. For each substrate and enzyme pair, the activity inferred by the "productive" docking models (in which the spatial arrangement of the steroid and the cofactor would permit a reaction) matched the experimentally observed positional and stereochemical outcome. These productive conformations were energetically and statistically favored except for TIB and PRO with AKR1C2, where experimentally strong substrate inhibition and low activity were observed, respectively. Results showed that (i) a 3-ketosteroid (DHT) and a 20-ketosteroid (PRO) were reduced by AKR1C1 since the carbonyl groups could occupy the same position by "backwards" binding of steroids; (ii) 3alpha-reduced (DHT) and 3beta-reduced (TIB) products were formed by AKR1C2 since the angular methyl groups of the steroids were inverted by "upside-down" binding of steroids; and (iii) the 3beta- and 3alpha-reduction of DHT by AKR1C1 and AKR1C2, respectively occurred since the steroids employed a "swinging" motion to present opposite faces to the cofactor. Favorable nonproductive modes were observed with all substrates in both enzymes in which the steroid was bound at a "near-entry" position and/or an "in-middle" position, which may influence the reaction coordinate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 20-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / chemistry*
  • Binding Sites
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Protein Binding
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Steroids / chemistry*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Steroids
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • 20-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • 3 alpha-beta, 20 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase
  • AKR1C2 protein, human