It is well recognized that aging in men is accompanied by a decline in the serum levels of some adrenal and testicular steroids, but little or no attention has focused on the multiple steroid metabolites that are formed by steroid-converting enzymes in target tissues. In the present study, we have examined in detail the serum concentrations of a large series of adrenal and testicular steroids and their most significant metabolites produced in intracrine peripheral tissues. The serum concentrations of 26 conjugated and unconjugated C21-, C19-, and C18-steroids were measured in 2423 men aged 40-80 yr. The serum concentrations of the major circulating adrenal C19-steroids, namely dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate (DHEA-S), androst-5-ene-3 beta, 17 beta-diol and its sulfate, and androstenedione, decreased by about 60% between the ages of 40-80 yr. The small decrease in the serum concentrations of progesterone and pregnenolone in the presence of increased levels of cortisol and markedly decreased levels of DHEA, androst-5-ene-3 beta, 17 beta-diol, and their polar metabolites suggests that adrenal 17,20-lyase is particularly affected by aging. In addition to a marked decline in the serum concentrations of adrenal C19-steroids, a smaller, but significant, decrease occurred in serum testosterone. However, serum dihydrotestosterone levels remained constant, but the glucuronidated derivatives of dihydrotestosterone metabolites (androstane-3 alpha, 17 beta-diol glucuronide, androstane-3 beta, 17 beta-diol glucuronide, and androsterone glucuronide) were reduced by 45-50%, suggesting that 5 alpha-reductase activity in peripheral tissues may show a compensatory increase during aging. Analysis of the fatty acid esters of DHEA (DHEA-FA) also revealed that these nonpolar steroids markedly decrease between 40-80 yr of age, although such a decrease in DHEA-FA levels was smaller than that in DHEA and DHEA-S, suggesting that the formation of DHEA-FA may be specifically increased during aging. In summary, the present study suggests that in contrast to the marked decline in activity of steroidogenic enzymes in the adrenals and the small decrease in the testis, the activity of the steroid-converting enzymes present in peripheral tissues does not decrease during aging. In fact, the marked decrease in DHEA formation by the adrenals leads to a decrease of about 50% in total androgens in men between the ages of 40-80 yr. Such a decrease probably affects many physiological processes during aging.