Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the 5 alpha-reduced metabolite of testosterone, is the active molecule triggering androgen action, and 5 alpha-reductase (5 alpha-R), the enzyme converting testosterone to DHT, is a key step in this mechanism. Skin, like prostate, is a DHT- dependent tissue. Our laboratory demonstrated, many years ago, that 5 alpha-R in external genitalia was not regulated by androgens, whereas it was androgen dependent in public skin. As two genes, 5 alpha-R types 1 and 2, encoding for 5 alpha-R enzymes have been recently cloned, we undertook the present study to determine whether the two enzymes we had postulated on the basis of regulation studies were coincident with the cloned isoforms. The expression of the two isoforms was studied in genital and pubic skin fibroblasts from normal men, normal women, and hirsute patients. Messenger ribonucleic acid analysis, using Northern blot and RT-PCR techniques, indicated that both 5 alpha-R1 and -2 messenger ribonucleic acids are expressed in genital skin as well as in public skin fibroblasts. In contrast, studies using specific inhibitors of 5 alpha-R1 (LY306089) and 5 alpha-R2 (finasteride) showed that 5 alpha-R2 is predominant in pubic skin of normal men, normal women, and hirsute patients. These data raise the question of the possible use of specific 5 alpha-R1 inhibitors in the treatment of idiopathic hirsutism.