Oxygenation products of cholesterol, named oxysterols, were suspected since the 20th century to be involved in carcinogenesis. Among the family of oxysterol molecules, cholesterol-5,6-epoxides (5,6-EC) retained the attention of scientists because they contain a putative alkylating epoxide group. However, studies failed into demonstrating that 5,6-EC were direct carcinogens and revealed a surprising chemical stability and unreactivity towards nucleophiles in standard conditions. Analyses of 5,6-EC metabolism in normal cells showed that they were extensively transformed into cholestane-3β,5α,6β-triol (CT) by the cholesterol-5,6-epoxide hydrolase (ChEH). Studies performed in cancer cells showed that CT was additionally metabolized into an oxysterol identified as the 6-oxo-cholestan-3β,5α-diol (OCDO), by the 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase of type 2 (HSD2), the enzyme which inactivates cortisol into cortisone. Importantly, OCDO was shown to display tumor promoter properties in breast cancers, by binding to the glucocorticoid receptor, and independently of their estrogen receptor status, revealing the existence of a new tumorigenic pathway centered on 5,6-EC. In breast tumors from patients, OCDO production as well as the expression of the enzymes involved in the pathway producing OCDO, namely ChEH subunits and HSD2, were higher compared to normal tissues, and overexpression of these enzymes correlate with a higher risk of patient death, indicating that this onco-metabolism is of major importance to breast cancer pathology. Herein, we will review the actual knowledge and the future trends in OCDO chemistry, biochemistry, metabolism and mechanism of action and will discuss the impact of OCDO discovery on new anticancer therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Cholesterol; Glucocorticoid receptor; Oncometabolism; Oxysterol; Tumor promoter.
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