Natural potent androgens: lessons from human genetic models

Baillieres Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Apr;12(1):83-113. doi: 10.1016/s0950-351x(98)80478-3.


Male pseudohermaphroditism due to 17 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 (17 beta-HSD-3) deficiency and 5 alpha-reductase-2 (5 alpha-RD-2) deficiency provides natural human genetic models to elucidate androgen actions. To date, five 17 beta-HSD isozymes have been cloned that catalyse the oxidoreduction of androstenedione and testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), oestrone and oestradiol. Mutations in the isozyme 17 beta-HSD-3 gene are responsible for male pseudohermaphroditism due to 17 beta-HSD deficiency. The type 3 isozyme preferentially catalyses the reduction of androstenedione to testosterone and is primarily expressed in the testes. Fourteen mutations in the 17 beta-HSD-3 gene have been identified from different ethnic groups. Affected males with the 17 beta-HSD-3 gene defect have normal wolffian structures but ambiguous external genitalia at birth. Many are raised as girls but virilize at the time of puberty and adopt a male gender role. Some develop gynaecomastia at puberty, which appears to be related to the testosterone/oestradiol ratio. Two 5 alpha-reductase (5 alpha-RD) isozymes, types 1 and 2, have been identified, which convert testosterone to the more potent androgen DHT. Mutations in the 5 alpha-RD-2 gene cause male pseudohermaphroditism, and 31 mutations in the 5 alpha-RD-2 gene have been reported from various ethnic groups. Such individuals also have normal wolffian structure but ambiguous external genitalia at birth and are raised as girls. Virilization occurs at puberty, often with a gender role change. The prostate remains infantile and facial hair is decreased. Balding has not been reported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / deficiency*
  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / deficiency*
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Alopecia / genetics
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Androstenedione / metabolism
  • Dihydrotestosterone / metabolism
  • Disorders of Sex Development / enzymology*
  • Disorders of Sex Development / ethnology
  • Disorders of Sex Development / genetics
  • Disorders of Sex Development / therapy
  • Female
  • Gynecomastia / genetics
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes
  • Male
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pedigree
  • Sex Differentiation / genetics*
  • Testis / enzymology
  • Testosterone / metabolism


  • Androgens
  • Isoenzymes
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione
  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • 3 (or 17)-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase