Assessment of the inhibitory potential of anabolic steroids towards human AKR1D1 by computational methods and in vitro evaluation

Toxicol Lett. 2023 Aug 1;384:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2023.07.006. Epub 2023 Jul 13.


Exposure to xenobiotics can adversely affect biochemical reactions, including hepatic bile acid synthesis. Bile acids are essential for dissolving lipophilic compounds in the hydrophilic environment of the gastrointestinal tract. The critical micellar concentration of bile acids depends on the Δ4-reduction stereochemistry, with the 3-oxo-5β-steroid-Δ4-dehydrogenase (AKR1D1) introducing the cis ring A/B conformation. Loss-of-function mutations in AKR1D1 cause hepatic cholestasis, which, if left untreated can progress into steatosis and liver cirrhosis. Furthermore, AKR1D1 is involved in clearing steroids with an A-ring Δ4-double bond. Here, we tested whether anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), often taken off-label at high doses, might inhibit AKR1D1, thereby potentially causing hepatotoxicity. A computational molecular model was established and used for virtual screening of the DrugBank database consisting of 2740 molecules, yielding mainly steroidal hits. Fourteen AAS were selected for in vitro evaluation, as such compounds can reach high hepatic concentrations in an abuse situation. Nandrolone, clostebol, methasterone, drostanolone, and methenolone inhibited to various extent the AKR1D1-mediated reduction of testosterone. Molecular modeling suggests that 9 out of 14 investigated AAS are competitive inhibitors. Moreover quantum mechanical calculations show that nadrolone and clostebol are substrates of AKR1D1 with different activation energy barriers for the hydrogen transfer from cofactor to the C5 position affecting their turnover. In this multidisciplinary approach, we established a molecular model of AKR1D1, identified several AAS as inhibitors, and described their binding mode. This approach may be applied to study other classes of inhibitors including non-steroidal compounds.

Keywords: AKR1D1; Anabolic steroids; Cholestasis; Liver; Metabolism; Xenobiotics.

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents* / toxicity
  • Anabolic Androgenic Steroids*
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Steroids


  • Anabolic Androgenic Steroids
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Steroids
  • Anabolic Agents