The consensus view is that vertebrate-type steroids are present in mollusks and perform hormonal roles which are similar to those that they play in vertebrates. Although vertebrate steroids can be measured in molluscan tissues, a key question is 'Are they formed endogenously or they are picked up from their environment?'. The present review concludes that there is no convincing evidence for biosynthesis of vertebrate steroids by mollusks. Furthermore, the 'mollusk' genome does not contain the genes for key enzymes that are necessary to transform cholesterol in progressive steps into vertebrate-type steroids; nor does the mollusk genome contain genes for functioning classical nuclear steroid receptors. On the other hand, there is very strong evidence that mollusks are able to absorb vertebrate steroids from the environment; and are able to store some of them (by conjugating them to fatty acids) for weeks to months. It is notable that the three steroids that have been proposed as functional hormones in mollusks (i.e. progesterone, testosterone and 17β-estradiol) are the same as those of humans. Since humans (and indeed all vertebrates) continuously excrete steroids not just via urine and feces, but via their body surface (and, in fish, via the gills), it is impossible to rule out contamination as the sole reason for the presence of vertebrate steroids in mollusks (even in animals kept under supposedly 'clean laboratory conditions'). Essentially, the presence of vertebrate steroids in mollusks cannot be taken as reliable evidence of either endogenous biosynthesis or of an endocrine role.
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