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A steroid is a biologically active
organic compound In chemistry, organic compounds are generally any chemical compounds that contain carbon-hydrogen or carbon-carbon bonds. Due to carbon's ability to catenate (form chains with other carbon atoms), millions of organic compounds are known. The s ...
with four rings arranged in a specific molecular configuration. Steroids have two principal biological functions: as important components of
cell membrane The cell membrane (also known as the plasma membrane (PM) or cytoplasmic membrane, and historically referred to as the plasmalemma) is a biological membrane that separates and protects the interior of all cells from the outside environment (the ...
s that alter membrane fluidity; and as signaling molecules. Hundreds of steroids are found in
plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant kingdom encompassed all living things that were not animals, and included algae and fungi; however, all current definitions of Plantae exclude ...
s, animals and
fungi A fungus ( : fungi or funguses) is any member of the group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified as a kingdom, separately fro ...
. All steroids are manufactured in cells from the
sterols Sterol is an organic compound with formula , whose molecule is derived from that of gonane by replacement of a hydrogen atom in position 3 by a hydroxyl group. It is therefore an alcohol of gonane. More generally, any compounds that contain the go ...
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
(
opisthokonts The opisthokonts () are a broad group of eukaryotes, including both the animal and fungus kingdoms. The opisthokonts, previously called the "Fungi/Metazoa group", are generally recognized as a clade. Opisthokonts together with Apusomonadida and ...
) or
cycloartenol Cycloartenol is an important triterpenoid of the sterol class which is found in plants. It is the starting point for the synthesis of almost all plant steroids, making them chemically distinct from the steroids of fungi and animals, which are, ins ...
(plants). Lanosterol and cycloartenol are derived from the
cyclization A cyclic compound (or ring compound) is a term for a compound in the field of chemistry in which one or more series of atoms in the compound is connected to form a ring. Rings may vary in size from three to many atoms, and include examples where a ...
of the
triterpene Triterpenes are a class of chemical compounds composed of three terpene units with the molecular formula C30H48; they may also be thought of as consisting of six isoprene units. Animals, plants and fungi all produce triterpenes, including squal ...
squalene Squalene is an organic compound. It is a triterpenoid with the formula C30H50. It is a colourless oil, although impure samples appear yellow. It was originally obtained from shark liver oil (hence its name, as '' Squalus'' is a genus of sharks). ...
. The steroid core structure is typically composed of seventeen
carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—its atom making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon m ...
atoms, bonded in four " fused" rings: three six-member
cyclohexane Cyclohexane is a cycloalkane with the molecular formula . Cyclohexane is non-polar. Cyclohexane is a colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive detergent-like odor, reminiscent of cleaning products (in which it is sometimes used). Cyclohe ...
rings (rings A, B and C in the first illustration) and one five-member
cyclopentane Cyclopentane (also called C pentane) is a highly flammable alicyclic hydrocarbon with chemical formula C5H10 and CAS number 287-92-3, consisting of a ring of five carbon atoms each bonded with two hydrogen atoms above and below the plane. It occu ...
ring (the D ring). Steroids vary by the
functional groups In organic chemistry, a functional group is a substituent or moiety in a molecule that causes the molecule's characteristic chemical reactions. The same functional group will undergo the same or similar chemical reactions regardless of the res ...
attached to this four-ring core and by the
oxidation state In chemistry, the oxidation state, or oxidation number, is the hypothetical charge of an atom if all of its bonds to different atoms were fully ionic. It describes the degree of oxidation (loss of electrons) of an atom in a chemical compound. Co ...
of the rings.
Sterol Sterol is an organic compound with formula , whose molecule is derived from that of gonane by replacement of a hydrogen atom in position 3 by a hydroxyl group. It is therefore an alcohol of gonane. More generally, any compounds that contain the go ...
s are forms of steroids with a
hydroxy group In chemistry, a hydroxy or hydroxyl group is a functional group with the chemical formula and composed of one oxygen atom covalently bonded to one hydrogen atom. In organic chemistry, alcohols and carboxylic acids contain one or more hydrox ...
at position three and a skeleton derived from cholestane. ''Also available with the same authors at'' ; ''Also available online at'' Steroids can also be more radically modified, such as by changes to the ring structure, for example,
cutting Cutting is the separation or opening of a physical object, into two or more portions, through the application of an acutely directed force. Implements commonly used for cutting are the knife and saw, or in medicine and science the scalpel and ...
one of the rings. Cutting Ring B produces
secosteroid A secosteroid () is a type of steroid with a "broken" ring. The word ''secosteroid ''derives from the Latin verb ''secare'' meaning "to cut", and 'steroid'. Secosteroids are alternatively described as a subclass of steroids; ; or derived from st ...
s one of which is vitamin D3. Examples include anabolic steroids, the
lipid Lipids are a broad group of naturally-occurring molecules which includes fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, phospholipids, and others. The functions of lipids in ...
cholesterol Cholesterol is any of a class of certain organic molecules called lipids. It is a sterol (or modified steroid), a type of lipid. Cholesterol is biosynthesized by all animal cells and is an essential structural component of animal cell ...
, the sex hormones
estradiol Estradiol (E2), also spelled oestradiol, is an estrogen steroid hormone and the major female sex hormone. It is involved in the regulation of the estrous and menstrual female reproductive cycles. Estradiol is responsible for the development ...
and
testosterone Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males. In humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteri ...
, and the anti-inflammatory drug
dexamethasone Dexamethasone is a glucocorticoid medication used to treat rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, croup, brain swelling, eye pain following eye surgery, superior vena cava ...
.


Nomenclature

Gonane Gonane is a chemical compound with formula , whose molecule can be described as three molecules or entities of cyclohexane and one of cyclopentane, fused in a particular way. More specifically, the molecule can be described as that of cycloh ...
, also known as steran or cyclopentanoperhydrophenanthrene, the simplest steroid and the nucleus of all steroids and sterols, is composed of seventeen
carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—its atom making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon m ...
atoms in carbon-carbon bonds forming four fused rings in a three-dimensional shape. The three
cyclohexane Cyclohexane is a cycloalkane with the molecular formula . Cyclohexane is non-polar. Cyclohexane is a colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive detergent-like odor, reminiscent of cleaning products (in which it is sometimes used). Cyclohe ...
rings (A, B, and C in the first illustration) form the skeleton of a perhydro derivative of
phenanthrene Phenanthrene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) with formula C14H10, consisting of three fused benzene rings. It is a colorless, crystal-like solid, but can also appear yellow. Phenanthrene is used to make dyes, plastics and pesticides, e ...
. The D ring has a
cyclopentane Cyclopentane (also called C pentane) is a highly flammable alicyclic hydrocarbon with chemical formula C5H10 and CAS number 287-92-3, consisting of a ring of five carbon atoms each bonded with two hydrogen atoms above and below the plane. It occu ...
structure. When the two methyl groups and eight carbon
side chain In organic chemistry and biochemistry, a side chain is a chemical group that is attached to a core part of the molecule called the "main chain" or backbone. The side chain is a hydrocarbon branching element of a molecule that is attached to a ...
s (at C-17, as shown for cholesterol) are present, the steroid is said to have a cholestane framework. The two common 5α and 5β stereoisomeric forms of steroids exist because of differences in the side of the largely planar ring system where the hydrogen (H) atom at carbon-5 is attached, which results in a change in steroid A-ring conformation. Isomerisation at the C-21 side chain produces a parallel series of compounds, referred to as isosteroids. Examples of steroid structures are: File:Testosteron.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
Testosterone Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males. In humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteri ...
, the principal male
sex hormone Sex hormones, also known as sex steroids, gonadocorticoids and gonadal steroids, are steroid hormones that interact with vertebrate steroid hormone receptors. The sex hormones include the androgens, estrogens, and progestogens. Their effects ar ...
and an
anabolic steroid Anabolic steroids, also known more properly as anabolic–androgenic steroids (AAS), are steroidal androgens that include natural androgens like testosterone as well as synthetic androgens that are structurally related and have similar effects t ...
File:Cholsäure.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
Cholic acid Cholic acid, also known as 3α,7α,12α-trihydroxy-5β-cholan-24-oic acid is a primary bile acid that is insoluble in water (soluble in alcohol and acetic acid), it is a white crystalline substance. Salts of cholic acid are called cholates. Chol ...
, a
bile acid Bile acids are steroid acids found predominantly in the bile of mammals and other vertebrates. Diverse bile acids are synthesized in the liver. Bile acids are conjugated with taurine or glycine residues to give anions called bile salts. Prim ...
, showing the
carboxylic acid In organic chemistry, a carboxylic acid is an organic acid that contains a carboxyl group () attached to an R-group. The general formula of a carboxylic acid is or , with R referring to the alkyl, alkenyl, aryl, or other group. Carbox ...
and additional
hydroxyl group In chemistry, a hydroxy or hydroxyl group is a functional group with the chemical formula and composed of one oxygen atom covalently bonded to one hydrogen atom. In organic chemistry, alcohols and carboxylic acids contain one or more hydroxy ...
s often present File:Dexamethasone structure.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
Dexamethasone Dexamethasone is a glucocorticoid medication used to treat rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, croup, brain swelling, eye pain following eye surgery, superior vena cava ...
, a synthetic
corticosteroid Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones. Two main classes of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, are involv ...
drug File:Lanosterin.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
Lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
, the
biosynthetic Biosynthesis is a multi-step, enzyme-catalyzed process where substrates are converted into more complex products in living organisms. In biosynthesis, simple compounds are modified, converted into other compounds, or joined to form macromolecules ...
precursor to animal steroids. The number of carbons (30) indicates its
triterpenoid Triterpenes are a class of chemical compounds composed of three terpene units with the molecular formula C30H48; they may also be thought of as consisting of six isoprene units. Animals, plants and fungi all produce triterpenes, including squa ...
classification. File:Progesteron.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
Progesterone Progesterone (P4) is an endogenous steroid and progestogen sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis of humans and other species. It belongs to a group of steroid hormones called the progestogens and is the majo ...
, a steroid hormone involved in the female menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis File:Medrogestone.png, alt=Chemical diagram,
Medrogestone Medrogestone, sold under the brand name Colprone among others, is a progestin medication which has been used in menopausal hormone therapy and in the treatment of gynecological disorders. It is available both alone and in combination with an est ...
, a synthetic drug with effects similar to progesterone File:Sitosterol structure.svg, alt=Chemical diagram,
β-Sitosterol β-sitosterol (beta-sitosterol) is one of several phytosterols (plant sterols) with chemical structures similar to that of cholesterol. It is a white, waxy powder with a characteristic odor, and is one of the components of the food additive E499 ...
, a plant or
phytosterol Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phyt ...
, with a fully branched hydrocarbon side chain at C-17 and an hydroxyl group at C-3
In addition to the ring scissions (cleavages), expansions and contractions (cleavage and reclosing to a larger or smaller rings)—all variations in the carbon-carbon bond framework—steroids can also vary: * in the
bond order In chemistry, bond order, as introduced by Linus Pauling, is defined as the difference between the number of bonds and anti-bonds. The bond order itself is the number of electron pairs ( covalent bonds) between two atoms. For example, in diatom ...
s within the rings, * in the number of methyl groups attached to the ring (and, when present, on the prominent side chain at C17), * in the functional groups attached to the rings and side chain, and * in the
configuration Configuration or configurations may refer to: Computing * Computer configuration or system configuration * Configuration file, a software file used to configure the initial settings for a computer program * Configurator, also known as choice board ...
of groups attached to the rings and chain. For instance,
sterol Sterol is an organic compound with formula , whose molecule is derived from that of gonane by replacement of a hydrogen atom in position 3 by a hydroxyl group. It is therefore an alcohol of gonane. More generally, any compounds that contain the go ...
s such as cholesterol and lanosterol have a
hydroxyl group In chemistry, a hydroxy or hydroxyl group is a functional group with the chemical formula and composed of one oxygen atom covalently bonded to one hydrogen atom. In organic chemistry, alcohols and carboxylic acids contain one or more hydroxy ...
attached at position C-3, while
testosterone Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males. In humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteri ...
and
progesterone Progesterone (P4) is an endogenous steroid and progestogen sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis of humans and other species. It belongs to a group of steroid hormones called the progestogens and is the majo ...
have a carbonyl (oxo substituent) at C-3; of these,
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
alone has two methyl groups at C-4 and cholesterol (with a C-5 to C-6 double bond) differs from testosterone and progesterone (which have a C-4 to C-5 double bond).


Species distribution and function

In
eukaryote Eukaryotes () are organisms whose cells have a nucleus. All animals, plants, fungi, and many unicellular organisms, are Eukaryotes. They belong to the group of organisms Eukaryota or Eukarya, which is one of the three domains of life. Bacter ...
s, steroids are found in fungi, animals, and plants.


Fungal steroids

Fungal steroids include the
ergosterol Ergosterol (ergosta-5,7,22-trien-3β-ol) is a sterol found in cell membranes of fungi and protozoa, serving many of the same functions that cholesterol serves in animal cells. Because many fungi and protozoa cannot survive without ergosterol, the ...
s, which are involved in maintaining the integrity of the fungal cellular membrane. Various antifungal drugs, such as amphotericin B and azole antifungals, utilize this information to kill
pathogenic In biology, a pathogen ( el, πάθος, "suffering", "passion" and , "producer of") in the oldest and broadest sense, is any organism or agent that can produce disease. A pathogen may also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a ger ...
fungi. Fungi can alter their ergosterol content (e.g. through loss of function mutations in the enzymes ERG3 or ERG6, inducing depletion of ergosterol, or mutations that decrease the ergosterol content) to develop resistance to drugs that target ergosterol. Ergosterol is analogous to the
cholesterol Cholesterol is any of a class of certain organic molecules called lipids. It is a sterol (or modified steroid), a type of lipid. Cholesterol is biosynthesized by all animal cells and is an essential structural component of animal cell ...
found in the cellular membranes of animals (including humans), or the
phytosterols Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phytos ...
found in the cellular membranes of plants. All mushrooms contain large quantities of ergosterol, in the range of tens to hundreds of milligrams per 100 grams of dry weight. Oxygen is necessary for the synthesis of
ergosterol Ergosterol (ergosta-5,7,22-trien-3β-ol) is a sterol found in cell membranes of fungi and protozoa, serving many of the same functions that cholesterol serves in animal cells. Because many fungi and protozoa cannot survive without ergosterol, the ...
in fungi. Ergosterol is responsible for the
vitamin D Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and many other biological effects. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 ( ...
content found in mushrooms; ergosterol is chemically converted into provitamin D2 by exposure to
ultraviolet light Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelength from 10 nm (with a corresponding frequency around 30  PHz) to 400 nm (750  THz), shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays. UV radiation ...
. Provitamin D2 spontaneously forms vitamin D2. However, not all fungi utilize ergosterol in their cellular membranes; for example, the pathogenic fungal species ''
Pneumocystis jirovecii ''Pneumocystis jirovecii'' (previously ''P. carinii'') is a yeast-like fungus of the genus ''Pneumocystis''. The causative organism of ''Pneumocystis'' pneumonia, it is an important human pathogen, particularly among immunocompromised hosts. Pr ...
'' does not, which has important clinical implications (given the mechanism of action of many antifungal drugs). Using the fungus ''
Saccharomyces cerevisiae ''Saccharomyces cerevisiae'' () (brewer's yeast or baker's yeast) is a species of yeast (single-celled fungus microorganisms). The species has been instrumental in winemaking, baking, and brewing since ancient times. It is believed to have b ...
'' as an example, other major steroids include ergosta‐5,7,22,24(28)‐tetraen‐3β‐ol,
zymosterol Zymosterol is an intermediate in cholesterol biosynthesis. Disregarding some intermediate compounds (e.g. 4-4-dimethylzymosterol) lanosterol can be considered a precursor of zymosterol in the cholesterol synthesis pathway. The conversion of zymost ...
, and
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
. ''S. cerevisiae'' utilizes 5,6‐dihydroergosterol in place of ergosterol in its cell membrane.


Animal steroids

Animal steroids include compounds of vertebrate and insect origin, the latter including
ecdysteroid Ecdysteroids are arthropod steroid hormones that are mainly responsible for molting, development and, to a lesser extent, reproduction; examples of ecdysteroids include ecdysone, ecdysterone, turkesterone and 2-deoxyecdysone. These compounds ar ...
s such as ecdysterone (controlling molting in some species). Vertebrate examples include the steroid hormones and cholesterol; the latter is a structural component of
cell membranes The cell membrane (also known as the plasma membrane (PM) or cytoplasmic membrane, and historically referred to as the plasmalemma) is a biological membrane that separates and protects the interior of all cells from the outside environment (th ...
that helps determine the fluidity of
cell membranes The cell membrane (also known as the plasma membrane (PM) or cytoplasmic membrane, and historically referred to as the plasmalemma) is a biological membrane that separates and protects the interior of all cells from the outside environment (th ...
and is a principal constituent of plaque (implicated in atherosclerosis). Steroid hormones include: *
Sex hormone Sex hormones, also known as sex steroids, gonadocorticoids and gonadal steroids, are steroid hormones that interact with vertebrate steroid hormone receptors. The sex hormones include the androgens, estrogens, and progestogens. Their effects ar ...
s, which influence sex differences and support
reproduction Reproduction (or procreation or breeding) is the biological process by which new individual organisms – " offspring" – are produced from their "parent" or parents. Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life; each individual ...
. These include androgens, estrogens, and
progestogen Progestogens, also sometimes written progestagens or gestagens, are a class of natural or synthetic steroid hormones that bind to and activate the progesterone receptors (PR). Progesterone is the major and most important progestogen in the body ...
s. *
Corticosteroid Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones. Two main classes of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, are involv ...
s, including most synthetic steroid drugs, with
natural product A natural product is a natural compound or substance produced by a living organism—that is, found in nature. In the broadest sense, natural products include any substance produced by life. Natural products can also be prepared by chemical sy ...
classes the
glucocorticoid Glucocorticoids (or, less commonly, glucocorticosteroids) are a class of corticosteroids, which are a class of steroid hormones. Glucocorticoids are corticosteroids that bind to the glucocorticoid receptor that is present in almost every verteb ...
s (which regulate many aspects of
metabolism Metabolism (, from el, μεταβολή ''metabolē'', "change") is the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in organisms. The three main functions of metabolism are: the conversion of the energy in food to energy available to run ce ...
and
immune function The immune system is a network of biological processes that protects an organism from diseases. It detects and responds to a wide variety of pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, as well as cancer cells and objects such as wood spli ...
) and the
mineralocorticoid Mineralocorticoids are a class of corticosteroids, which in turn are a class of steroid hormones. Mineralocorticoids are produced in the adrenal cortex and influence salt and water balances (electrolyte balance and fluid balance). The primary min ...
s (which help maintain blood volume and control
renal The kidneys are two reddish-brown bean-shaped organs found in vertebrates. They are located on the left and right in the retroperitoneal space, and in adult humans are about in length. They receive blood from the paired renal arteries; bl ...
excretion of
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting through the movement of those ions, but not conducting electrons. This includes most soluble salts, acids, and bases dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water. Upon di ...
s) *
Anabolic steroid Anabolic steroids, also known more properly as anabolic–androgenic steroids (AAS), are steroidal androgens that include natural androgens like testosterone as well as synthetic androgens that are structurally related and have similar effects t ...
s,
natural Nature, in the broadest sense, is the physical world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are ...
and synthetic, which interact with androgen receptors to increase muscle and bone synthesis. In popular use, the term "steroids" often refers to anabolic steroids.


Plant steroids

Plant steroids include steroidal alkaloids found in
Solanaceae The Solanaceae , or nightshades, are a family of flowering plants that ranges from annual and perennial herbs to vines, lianas, epiphytes, shrubs, and trees, and includes a number of agricultural crops, medicinal plants, spices, weeds, and or ...
and
Melanthiaceae Melanthiaceae, also called the bunchflower family, is a family of flowering herbaceous perennial plants native to the Northern Hemisphere. Along with many other lilioid monocots, early authors considered members of this family to belong to th ...
(specially the genus
Veratrum ''Veratrum'' is a genus of flowering plants in the family Melanthiaceae. It occurs in damp habitats across much of temperate and subarctic Europe, Asia, and North America. ''Veratrum'' species are vigorous herbaceous perennials with highly pois ...
),
cardiac glycoside Cardiac glycosides are a class of organic compounds that increase the output force of the heart and decrease its rate of contractions by inhibiting the cellular sodium-potassium ATPase pump. Their beneficial medical uses are as treatments for c ...
s, the
phytosterol Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phyt ...
s and the
brassinosteroid Brassinosteroids (BRs or less commonly BS) are a class of polyhydroxysteroids that have been recognized as a sixth class of plant hormones and may have utility as an anticancer drug for endocrine-responsive cancers to induce apoptosis and inhibi ...
s (which include several plant hormones).


Prokaryotes

In
prokaryotes A prokaryote () is a single-celled organism that lacks a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. The word ''prokaryote'' comes from the Greek πρό (, 'before') and κάρυον (, 'nut' or 'kernel').Campbell, N. "Biology:Concepts & Con ...
, biosynthetic pathways exist for the tetracyclic steroid framework (e.g. in
mycobacteria ''Mycobacterium'' is a genus of over 190 species in the phylum Actinomycetota, assigned its own family, Mycobacteriaceae. This genus includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in mammals, including tuberculosis ('' M. tuberculosis'') an ...
) – where its origin from
eukaryote Eukaryotes () are organisms whose cells have a nucleus. All animals, plants, fungi, and many unicellular organisms, are Eukaryotes. They belong to the group of organisms Eukaryota or Eukarya, which is one of the three domains of life. Bacter ...
s is conjectured – and the more-common pentacyclic triterpinoid
hopanoid Hopanoids are a diverse subclass of triterpenoids with the same hydrocarbon skeleton as the compound hopane. This group of pentacyclic molecules therefore refers to simple hopenes, hopanols and hopanes, but also to extensively functionalized deriv ...
framework.


Types


By function

The major classes of steroid hormones, with prominent members and examples of related functions, are: *
Corticosteroid Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones. Two main classes of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, are involv ...
s: **
Glucocorticoid Glucocorticoids (or, less commonly, glucocorticosteroids) are a class of corticosteroids, which are a class of steroid hormones. Glucocorticoids are corticosteroids that bind to the glucocorticoid receptor that is present in almost every verteb ...
s: ***
Cortisol Cortisol is a steroid hormone, in the glucocorticoid class of hormones. When used as a medication, it is known as hydrocortisone. It is produced in many animals, mainly by the '' zona fasciculata'' of the adrenal cortex in the adrenal ...
, a
glucocorticoid Glucocorticoids (or, less commonly, glucocorticosteroids) are a class of corticosteroids, which are a class of steroid hormones. Glucocorticoids are corticosteroids that bind to the glucocorticoid receptor that is present in almost every verteb ...
whose functions include
immunosuppression Immunosuppression is a reduction of the activation or efficacy of the immune system. Some portions of the immune system itself have immunosuppressive effects on other parts of the immune system, and immunosuppression may occur as an adverse react ...
**
Mineralocorticoid Mineralocorticoids are a class of corticosteroids, which in turn are a class of steroid hormones. Mineralocorticoids are produced in the adrenal cortex and influence salt and water balances (electrolyte balance and fluid balance). The primary min ...
s: *** Aldosterone, a
mineralocorticoid Mineralocorticoids are a class of corticosteroids, which in turn are a class of steroid hormones. Mineralocorticoids are produced in the adrenal cortex and influence salt and water balances (electrolyte balance and fluid balance). The primary min ...
that helps regulate
blood pressure Blood pressure (BP) is the pressure of circulating blood against the walls of blood vessels. Most of this pressure results from the heart pumping blood through the circulatory system. When used without qualification, the term "blood pressure" ...
through water and electrolyte balance *
Sex steroid Sex hormones, also known as sex steroids, gonadocorticoids and gonadal steroids, are steroid hormones that interact with vertebrate steroid hormone receptors. The sex hormones include the androgens, estrogens, and progestogens. Their effects ...
s: **
Progestogen Progestogens, also sometimes written progestagens or gestagens, are a class of natural or synthetic steroid hormones that bind to and activate the progesterone receptors (PR). Progesterone is the major and most important progestogen in the body ...
s: ***
Progesterone Progesterone (P4) is an endogenous steroid and progestogen sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis of humans and other species. It belongs to a group of steroid hormones called the progestogens and is the majo ...
, which regulates cyclical changes in the
endometrium The endometrium is the inner epithelial layer, along with its mucous membrane, of the mammalian uterus. It has a basal layer and a functional layer: the basal layer contains stem cells which regenerate the functional layer. The functional layer ...
of the
uterus The uterus (from Latin ''uterus'', plural ''uteri'') or womb () is the organ in the reproductive system of most female mammals, including humans that accommodates the embryonic and fetal development of one or more embryos until birth. The ut ...
and maintains a pregnancy **
Androgens An androgen (from Greek ''andr-'', the stem of the word meaning "man") is any natural or synthetic steroid hormone that regulates the development and maintenance of male characteristics in vertebrates by binding to androgen receptors. This incl ...
: ***
Testosterone Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males. In humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteri ...
, which contributes to the development and maintenance of male
secondary sex characteristic Secondary sex characteristics are features that appear during puberty in humans, and at sexual maturity in other animals. These characteristics are particularly evident in the sexually dimorphic phenotypic traits that distinguish the sexes of a ...
s **
Estrogens Estrogen or oestrogen is a category of sex hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. There are three major endogenous estrogens that have estrogenic hormonal acti ...
: ***
Estradiol Estradiol (E2), also spelled oestradiol, is an estrogen steroid hormone and the major female sex hormone. It is involved in the regulation of the estrous and menstrual female reproductive cycles. Estradiol is responsible for the development ...
, which contributes to the development and maintenance of female secondary sex characteristics Additional classes of steroids include: *
Neurosteroid Neurosteroids, also known as neuroactive steroids, are endogenous or exogenous steroids that rapidly alter neuronal excitability through interaction with ligand-gated ion channels and other cell surface receptors. The term ''neurosteroid'' was coin ...
s such as and
allopregnanolone Allopregnanolone is a naturally occurring neurosteroid which is made in the body from the hormone progesterone. As a medication, allopregnanolone is referred to as brexanolone, sold under the brand name Zulresso, and used to treat postpartum ...
*
Bile acid Bile acids are steroid acids found predominantly in the bile of mammals and other vertebrates. Diverse bile acids are synthesized in the liver. Bile acids are conjugated with taurine or glycine residues to give anions called bile salts. Prim ...
s such as
taurocholic acid Taurocholic acid, known also as cholaic acid, cholyltaurine, or acidum cholatauricum, is a deliquescent yellowish crystalline bile acid involved in the emulsification of fats. It occurs as a sodium salt in the bile of mammals. It is a conjugate ...
*
Aminosteroid Aminosteroids are a group of steroids with a similar structure based on an amino-substituted steroid nucleus. They are neuromuscular blocking agents, acting as competitive antagonists of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), and block th ...
neuromuscular blocking agents (mainly synthetic) such as pancuronium bromide * Steroidal antiandrogens (mainly synthetic) such as
cyproterone acetate Cyproterone acetate (CPA), sold alone under the brand name Androcur or with ethinylestradiol under the brand names Diane or Diane-35 among others, is an antiandrogen and progestin medication used in the treatment of androgen-dependent conditio ...
*
Steroidogenesis inhibitor A steroidogenesis inhibitor, also known as a steroid biosynthesis inhibitor, is a type of drug which inhibits one or more of the enzymes that are involved in the process of steroidogenesis, the biosynthesis of endogenous steroids and steroid ho ...
s (mainly exogenous) such as
alfatradiol Alfatradiol, also known as 17α-estradiol and sold under the brand names Avicis, Avixis, Ell-Cranell Alpha, and Pantostin, is a weak estrogen and 5α-reductase inhibitor medication which is used topically in the treatment of pattern hair los ...
* Membrane sterols such as
cholesterol Cholesterol is any of a class of certain organic molecules called lipids. It is a sterol (or modified steroid), a type of lipid. Cholesterol is biosynthesized by all animal cells and is an essential structural component of animal cell ...
,
ergosterol Ergosterol (ergosta-5,7,22-trien-3β-ol) is a sterol found in cell membranes of fungi and protozoa, serving many of the same functions that cholesterol serves in animal cells. Because many fungi and protozoa cannot survive without ergosterol, the ...
, and various
phytosterol Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phyt ...
s * Toxins such as steroidal
saponin Saponins (Latin "sapon", soap + "-in", one of), also selectively referred to as triterpene glycosides, are bitter-tasting usually toxic plant-derived organic chemicals that have a foamy quality when agitated in water. They are widely distributed ...
s and
cardenolide A cardenolide is a type of steroid. Many plants contain derivatives, collectively known as cardenolides, including many in the form of cardenolide glycosides (cardenolides that contain structural groups derived from sugars). Cardenolide glycoside ...
s/
cardiac glycoside Cardiac glycosides are a class of organic compounds that increase the output force of the heart and decrease its rate of contractions by inhibiting the cellular sodium-potassium ATPase pump. Their beneficial medical uses are as treatments for c ...
s As well as the following class of
secosteroid A secosteroid () is a type of steroid with a "broken" ring. The word ''secosteroid ''derives from the Latin verb ''secare'' meaning "to cut", and 'steroid'. Secosteroids are alternatively described as a subclass of steroids; ; or derived from st ...
s (open-ring steroids): *
Vitamin D Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and many other biological effects. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 ( ...
forms such as
ergocalciferol Ergocalciferol, also known as vitamin D2 and nonspecifically calciferol, is a type of vitamin D found in food and used as a dietary supplement. As a supplement it is used to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiency. This includes vitamin D defic ...
,
cholecalciferol Cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3 and colecalciferol, is a type of vitamin D that is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight; it is found in some foods and can be taken as a dietary supplement. Cholecalciferol is made in the skin fo ...
, and
calcitriol Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D, normally made in the kidney. It is also known as 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol. It is a hormone which binds to and activates the vitamin D receptor in the nucleus of the cell, which then increases the ...


By structure


Intact ring system

Steroids can be classified based on their chemical composition. One example of how
MeSH A mesh is a barrier made of connected strands of metal, fiber, or other flexible or ductile materials. A mesh is similar to a web or a net in that it has many attached or woven strands. Types * A plastic mesh may be extruded, oriented, ex ...
performs this classification is available at the Wikipedia MeSH catalog. Examples of this classification include: In biology, it is common to name the above steroid classes by the number of carbon atoms present when referring to hormones: C18-steroids for the estranes (mostly estrogens), C19-steroids for the androstanes (mostly androgens), and C21-steroids for the pregnanes (mostly corticosteroids). The classification "
17-ketosteroid 150px, Androstenedione 150px, Androsterone 150px, Estrone A ketosteroid, or an oxosteroid, is a steroid in which a hydrogen atom has been replaced with a ketone (C=O) group. A 17-ketosteroid is a ketosteroid in which the ketone is located sp ...
" is also important in medicine. The gonane (steroid nucleus) is the parent 17-carbon tetracyclic hydrocarbon molecule with no alkyl sidechains.


Cleaved, contracted, and expanded rings

Secosteroids (Latin ''seco'', "to cut") are a subclass of steroidal compounds resulting, biosynthetically or conceptually, from scission (cleavage) of parent steroid rings (generally one of the four). Major secosteroid subclasses are defined by the steroid carbon atoms where this scission has taken place. For instance, the prototypical secosteroid
cholecalciferol Cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3 and colecalciferol, is a type of vitamin D that is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight; it is found in some foods and can be taken as a dietary supplement. Cholecalciferol is made in the skin fo ...
, vitamin D3 (shown), is in the 9,10-secosteroid subclass and derives from the cleavage of carbon atoms C-9 and C-10 of the steroid B-ring; 5,6-secosteroids and 13,14-steroids are similar.
Norsteroid ''Norsteroids'' (nor-, L. ''norma'', from "normal" in chemistry, indicating carbon removal) are a structural class of steroids that have had an atom or atoms (typically carbon) removed, biosynthetically or synthetically, from positions of branch ...
s (
nor- In chemical nomenclature, nor- is a prefix to name a structural analog that can be derived from a parent compound by the removal of one carbon atom along with the accompanying hydrogen atoms. The nor-compound can be derived by removal of a , , or ...
, L. ''norma''; "normal" in chemistry, indicating carbon removal) and homosteroids (homo-, Greek ''homos''; "same", indicating carbon addition) are structural subclasses of steroids formed from biosynthetic steps. The former involves enzymic ring expansion-contraction reactions, and the latter is accomplished ( biomimetically) or (more frequently) through ring closures of acyclic precursors with more (or fewer) ring atoms than the parent steroid framework. Combinations of these ring alterations are known in nature. For instance, ewes who graze on corn lily ingest
cyclopamine Cyclopamine (11-deoxojervine) is a naturally occurring chemical that belongs in the family of steroidal alkaloids. It is a teratogen isolated from the corn lily ('' Veratrum californicum'') that causes fatal birth defects. It prevents the embryo ...
(shown) and veratramine, two of a sub-family of steroids where the C- and D-rings are contracted and expanded respectively via a
biosynthetic Biosynthesis is a multi-step, enzyme-catalyzed process where substrates are converted into more complex products in living organisms. In biosynthesis, simple compounds are modified, converted into other compounds, or joined to form macromolecules ...
migration of the original C-13 atom. Ingestion of these C-nor-D-homosteroids results in birth defects in lambs:
cyclopia Cyclopia (named after the Greek mythology character cyclopes) is the most extreme form of holoprosencephaly and is a congenital disorder (birth defect) characterized by the failure of the embryonic prosencephalon to properly divide the orbits ...
from
cyclopamine Cyclopamine (11-deoxojervine) is a naturally occurring chemical that belongs in the family of steroidal alkaloids. It is a teratogen isolated from the corn lily ('' Veratrum californicum'') that causes fatal birth defects. It prevents the embryo ...
and leg deformity from veratramine. A further C-nor-D-homosteroid (nakiterpiosin) is excreted by
Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan. Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost and westernmost prefecture of Japan, has a population of 1,457,162 (as of 2 February 2020) and a geographic area of 2,281 km2 (880 sq mi). Naha is the capital and largest city ...
n cyanobacteriosponges. e.g., '' Terpios hoshinota'', leading to coral mortality from black coral disease. Nakiterpiosin-type steroids are active against the signaling pathway involving the
smoothened Smoothened is a protein that in humans is encoded by the SMO gene. Smoothened is a Class Frizzled (Class F) G protein-coupled receptor that is a component of the hedgehog signaling pathway and is conserved from flies to humans. It is the molecu ...
and
hedgehog A hedgehog is a spiny mammal of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the eulipotyphlan family Erinaceidae. There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in New Zealand by introductio ...
proteins, a pathway which is hyperactive in a number of cancers.


Biological significance

Steroids and their metabolites often function as
signalling In signal processing, a signal is a function that conveys information about a phenomenon. Any quantity that can vary over space or time can be used as a signal to share messages between observers. The ''IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing'' ...
molecules (the most notable examples are steroid hormones), and steroids and
phospholipid Phospholipids, are a class of lipids whose molecule has a hydrophilic "head" containing a phosphate group and two hydrophobic "tails" derived from fatty acids, joined by an alcohol residue (usually a glycerol molecule). Marine phospholipids typi ...
s are components of
cell membrane The cell membrane (also known as the plasma membrane (PM) or cytoplasmic membrane, and historically referred to as the plasmalemma) is a biological membrane that separates and protects the interior of all cells from the outside environment (the ...
s. Steroids such as cholesterol decrease membrane fluidity. Similar to
lipid Lipids are a broad group of naturally-occurring molecules which includes fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, phospholipids, and others. The functions of lipids in ...
s, steroids are highly concentrated energy stores. However, they are not typically sources of energy; in mammals, they are normally metabolized and excreted. Steroids play critical roles in a number of disorders, including malignancies like
prostate cancer Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancerous tumor worldwide and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related mortality among men. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that surr ...
, where steroid production inside and outside the tumour promotes cancer cell aggressiveness.


Biosynthesis and metabolism

The hundreds of steroids found in animals, fungi, and
plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant kingdom encompassed all living things that were not animals, and included algae and fungi; however, all current definitions of Plantae exclude ...
s are made from
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
(in animals and fungi; see examples above) or
cycloartenol Cycloartenol is an important triterpenoid of the sterol class which is found in plants. It is the starting point for the synthesis of almost all plant steroids, making them chemically distinct from the steroids of fungi and animals, which are, ins ...
(in other eukaryotes). Both lanosterol and cycloartenol derive from
cyclization A cyclic compound (or ring compound) is a term for a compound in the field of chemistry in which one or more series of atoms in the compound is connected to form a ring. Rings may vary in size from three to many atoms, and include examples where a ...
of the
triterpenoid Triterpenes are a class of chemical compounds composed of three terpene units with the molecular formula C30H48; they may also be thought of as consisting of six isoprene units. Animals, plants and fungi all produce triterpenes, including squa ...
squalene Squalene is an organic compound. It is a triterpenoid with the formula C30H50. It is a colourless oil, although impure samples appear yellow. It was originally obtained from shark liver oil (hence its name, as '' Squalus'' is a genus of sharks). ...
. Lanosterol and cycloartenol are sometimes called protosterols because they serve as the starting compounds for all other steroids. Steroid biosynthesis is an anabolic pathway which produces steroids from simple precursors. A unique biosynthetic pathway is followed in animals (compared to many other
organism In biology, an organism () is any living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells (cell theory). Organisms are classified by taxonomy into groups such as multicellular animals, plants, and fung ...
s), making the pathway a common target for antibiotics and other anti-infection drugs. Steroid metabolism in humans is also the target of cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as
statin Statins, also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are a class of lipid-lowering medications that reduce illness and mortality in those who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease. They are the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs. Low- ...
s. In humans and other animals the biosynthesis of steroids follows the mevalonate pathway, which uses acetyl-CoA as building blocks for dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP) and
isopentenyl diphosphate Isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP, isopentenyl diphosphate, or IDP) is an isoprenoid precursor. IPP is an intermediate in the classical, HMG-CoA reductase pathway (commonly called the mevalonate pathway) and in the ''non-mevalonate'' MEP pathway of ...
(IPP). In subsequent steps DMAPP and IPP conjugate to form
farnesyl diphosphate Farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP), also known as farnesyl diphosphate (FDP), is an intermediate in the biosynthesis of terpenes and terpenoids such as sterols and carotenoids. It is also used in the synthesis of CoQ (part of the electron transport cha ...
(FPP), which further conjugates with each other to form the linear triterpenoid squalene. Squalene biosynthesis is catalyzed by squalene synthase, which belongs to the squalene/phytoene synthase family. Subsequent
epoxidation In organic chemistry, an epoxide is a cyclic ether () with a three-atom ring. This ring approximates an equilateral triangle, which makes it strained, and hence highly reactive, more so than other ethers. They are produced on a large scale f ...
and cyclization of squalene generate lanosterol, which is the starting point for additional modifications into other steroids (steroidogenesis). In other eukaryotes, the cyclization product of epoxidized squalene (oxidosqualene) is cycloartenol.


Mevalonate pathway

The mevalonate pathway (also called HMG-CoA reductase pathway) begins with acetyl-CoA and ends with dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP) and
isopentenyl diphosphate Isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP, isopentenyl diphosphate, or IDP) is an isoprenoid precursor. IPP is an intermediate in the classical, HMG-CoA reductase pathway (commonly called the mevalonate pathway) and in the ''non-mevalonate'' MEP pathway of ...
(IPP). DMAPP and IPP donate
isoprene Isoprene, or 2-methyl-1,3-butadiene, is a common volatile organic compound with the formula CH2=C(CH3)−CH=CH2. In its pure form it is a colorless volatile liquid. Isoprene is an unsaturated hydrocarbon. It is produced by many plants and animal ...
units, which are assembled and modified to form
terpene Terpenes () are a class of natural products consisting of compounds with the formula (C5H8)n for n > 1. Comprising more than 30,000 compounds, these unsaturated hydrocarbons are produced predominantly by plants, particularly conifers. Terpenes ar ...
s and
isoprenoids The terpenoids, also known as isoprenoids, are a class of naturally occurring organic chemicals derived from the 5-carbon compound isoprene and its derivatives called terpenes, diterpenes, etc. While sometimes used interchangeably with "terpenes" ...
(a large class of lipids, which include the
carotenoid Carotenoids (), also called tetraterpenoids, are yellow, orange, and red organic pigments that are produced by plants and algae, as well as several bacteria, and fungi. Carotenoids give the characteristic color to pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, ...
s and form the largest class of plant
natural product A natural product is a natural compound or substance produced by a living organism—that is, found in nature. In the broadest sense, natural products include any substance produced by life. Natural products can also be prepared by chemical sy ...
s. Here, the isoprene units are joined to make
squalene Squalene is an organic compound. It is a triterpenoid with the formula C30H50. It is a colourless oil, although impure samples appear yellow. It was originally obtained from shark liver oil (hence its name, as '' Squalus'' is a genus of sharks). ...
and folded into a set of rings to make
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
. Lanosterol can then be converted into other steroids, such as cholesterol and
ergosterol Ergosterol (ergosta-5,7,22-trien-3β-ol) is a sterol found in cell membranes of fungi and protozoa, serving many of the same functions that cholesterol serves in animal cells. Because many fungi and protozoa cannot survive without ergosterol, the ...
. Two classes of
drugs A drug is any chemical substance that causes a change in an organism's physiology or psychology when consumed. Drugs are typically distinguished from food and substances that provide nutritional support. Consumption of drugs can be via inhala ...
target the
mevalonate pathway The mevalonate pathway, also known as the isoprenoid pathway or HMG-CoA reductase pathway is an essential metabolic pathway present in eukaryotes, archaea, and some bacteria. The pathway produces two five-carbon building blocks called isopenten ...
:
statin Statins, also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are a class of lipid-lowering medications that reduce illness and mortality in those who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease. They are the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs. Low- ...
s (like
rosuvastatin Rosuvastatin, sold under the brand name Crestor among others, is a statin medication, used to prevent cardiovascular disease in those at high risk and treat abnormal lipids. It is recommended to be used together with dietary changes, exercise, ...
), which are used to reduce elevated cholesterol levels, and
bisphosphonate Bisphosphonates are a class of drugs that prevent the loss of bone density, used to treat osteoporosis and similar diseases. They are the most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat osteoporosis. They are called bisphosphonates because they ...
s (like
zoledronate Zoledronic acid, also known as zoledronate and sold under the brand name Zometa by Novartis among others, is a medication used to treat a number of bone diseases. These include osteoporosis, high blood calcium due to cancer, bone breakdown due t ...
), which are used to treat a number of bone-degenerative diseases.


Steroidogenesis

Steroidogenesis is the biological process by which steroids are generated from cholesterol and changed into other steroids. The pathways of steroidogenesis differ among species. The major classes of steroid hormones, as noted above (with their prominent members and functions), are the
progestogen Progestogens, also sometimes written progestagens or gestagens, are a class of natural or synthetic steroid hormones that bind to and activate the progesterone receptors (PR). Progesterone is the major and most important progestogen in the body ...
s,
corticosteroid Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones. Two main classes of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, are involv ...
s (corticoids), androgens, and estrogens. Human steroidogenesis of these classes occurs in a number of locations: *Progestogens are the precursors of all other human steroids, and all human tissues which produce steroids must first convert cholesterol to
pregnenolone Pregnenolone (P5), or pregn-5-en-3β-ol-20-one, is an endogenous steroid and precursor/ metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of most of the steroid hormones, including the progestogens, androgens, estrogens, glucocorticoids, and min ...
. This conversion is the rate-limiting step of steroid synthesis, which occurs inside the
mitochondrion A mitochondrion (; ) is an organelle found in the cells of most Eukaryotes, such as animals, plants and fungi. Mitochondria have a double membrane structure and use aerobic respiration to generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which i ...
of the respective tissue. *Cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone, and testosterone are produced in the adrenal cortex. *Estradiol, estrone and progesterone are made primarily in the
ovary The ovary is an organ in the female reproductive system that produces an ovum. When released, this travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus, where it may become fertilized by a sperm. There is an ovary () found on each side of the body. ...
, estriol in
placenta The placenta is a temporary embryonic and later fetal organ that begins developing from the blastocyst shortly after implantation. It plays critical roles in facilitating nutrient, gas and waste exchange between the physically separate matern ...
during pregnancy, and
testosterone Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males. In humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteri ...
primarily in the
testes A testicle or testis (plural testes) is the male reproductive gland or gonad in all bilaterians, including humans. It is homologous to the female ovary. The functions of the testes are to produce both sperm and androgens, primarily testoste ...
(some testosterone is also produced in the adrenal cortex). *Estradiol is converted from testosterone directly (in males), or via the primary pathway DHEA - androstenedione - estrone and secondarily via testosterone (in females). * Stromal cells have been shown to produce steroids in response to signaling produced by androgen-starved
prostate cancer Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancerous tumor worldwide and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related mortality among men. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that surr ...
cells. *Some
neurons A neuron, neurone, or nerve cell is an electrically excitable cell that communicates with other cells via specialized connections called synapses. The neuron is the main component of nervous tissue in all animals except sponges and placozoa. ...
and
glia Glia, also called glial cells (gliocytes) or neuroglia, are non-neuronal cells in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system that do not produce electrical impulses. They maintain homeostasis, form my ...
in the
central nervous system The central nervous system (CNS) is the part of the nervous system consisting primarily of the brain and spinal cord. The CNS is so named because the brain integrates the received information and coordinates and influences the activity of all pa ...
(CNS) express the
enzymes Enzymes () are proteins that act as biological catalysts by accelerating chemical reactions. The molecules upon which enzymes may act are called substrates, and the enzyme converts the substrates into different molecules known as products. ...
required for the local synthesis of pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA and DHEAS, ''de novo'' or from peripheral sources.


Alternative pathways

In plants and bacteria, the
non-mevalonate pathway The non-mevalonate pathway—also appearing as the mevalonate-independent pathway and the 2-''C''-methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate/1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate (MEP/DOXP) pathway—is an alternative metabolic pathway for the biosynthesis of the i ...
(MEP pathway) uses
pyruvate Pyruvic acid (CH3COCOOH) is the simplest of the alpha-keto acids, with a carboxylic acid and a ketone functional group. Pyruvate, the conjugate base, CH3COCOO−, is an intermediate in several metabolic pathways throughout the cell. Pyruvic ...
and
glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, also known as triose phosphate or 3-phosphoglyceraldehyde and abbreviated as G3P, GA3P, GADP, GAP, TP, GALP or PGAL, is a metabolite that occurs as an intermediate in several central pathways of all organisms.Nelson, D ...
as substrates to produce IPP and DMAPP. During diseases pathways otherwise not significant in healthy humans can become utilized. For example, in one form of
congenital adrenal hyperplasia Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a group of autosomal recessive disorders characterized by impaired cortisol synthesis. It results from the deficiency of one of the five enzymes required for the synthesis of cortisol in the adrenal corte ...
a deficiency in the 21-hydroxylase enzymatic pathway leads to an excess of
17α-Hydroxyprogesterone 17α-Hydroxyprogesterone (17α-OHP), also known as 17-OH progesterone (17-OHP), or hydroxyprogesterone (OHP), is an endogenous progestogen steroid hormone related to progesterone. It is also a chemical intermediate in the biosynthesis of many o ...
(17-OHP) – this pathological excess of 17-OHP in turn may be converted to
dihydrotestosterone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT, 5α-dihydrotestosterone, 5α-DHT, androstanolone or stanolone) is an endogenous androgen sex steroid and hormone. The enzyme 5α-reductase catalyzes the formation of DHT from testosterone in certain tissues inclu ...
(DHT, a potent androgen) through among others 17,20 Lyase (a member of the cytochrome P450 family of enzymes),
5α-Reductase 5α-Reductases, also known as 3-oxo-5α-steroid 4-dehydrogenases, are enzymes involved in steroid metabolism. They participate in three metabolic pathways: bile acid biosynthesis, androgen and estrogen metabolism. There are three isozymes ...
and 3α-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase.


Catabolism and excretion

Steroids are primarily oxidized by cytochrome P450 oxidase enzymes, such as
CYP3A4 Cytochrome P450 3A4 (abbreviated CYP3A4) () is an important enzyme in the body, mainly found in the liver and in the intestine. It oxidizes small foreign organic molecules ( xenobiotics), such as toxins or drugs, so that they can be removed from ...
. These reactions introduce oxygen into the steroid ring, allowing the cholesterol to be broken up by other enzymes into bile acids. These acids can then be eliminated by secretion from the
liver The liver is a major organ only found in vertebrates which performs many essential biological functions such as detoxification of the organism, and the synthesis of proteins and biochemicals necessary for digestion and growth. In humans, it i ...
in
bile Bile (from Latin ''bilis''), or gall, is a dark-green-to-yellowish-brown fluid produced by the liver of most vertebrates that aids the digestion of lipids in the small intestine. In humans, bile is produced continuously by the liver (liver bil ...
. The expression of the
oxidase In biochemistry, an oxidase is an enzyme that catalyzes oxidation-reduction reactions, especially one involving dioxygen (O2) as the electron acceptor. In reactions involving donation of a hydrogen atom, oxygen is reduced to water (H2O) or hydrog ...
gene can be
upregulated In the biological context of organisms' production of gene products, downregulation is the process by which a cell decreases the quantity of a cellular component, such as RNA or protein, in response to an external stimulus. The complementary ...
by the steroid sensor PXR when there is a high blood concentration of steroids. Steroid hormones, lacking the side chain of cholesterol and bile acids, are typically
hydroxylated In chemistry, hydroxylation can refer to: *(i) most commonly, hydroxylation describes a chemical process that introduces a hydroxyl group () into an organic compound. *(ii) the ''degree of hydroxylation'' refers to the number of OH groups in a ...
at various ring positions or oxidized at the 17 position, conjugated with sulfate or
glucuronic acid Glucuronic acid (from Greek γλεῦκος "''wine, must''" and οὖρον "''urine''") is a uronic acid that was first isolated from urine (hence the name). It is found in many gums such as gum arabic (c. 18%), xanthan, and kombucha tea ...
and excreted in the urine.


Isolation, structure determination, and methods of analysis

Steroid ''isolation'', depending on context, is the isolation of chemical matter required for
chemical structure A chemical structure determination includes a chemist's specifying the molecular geometry and, when feasible and necessary, the electronic structure of the target molecule or other solid. Molecular geometry refers to the spatial arrangement of a ...
elucidation, derivitzation or degradation chemistry, biological testing, and other research needs (generally milligrams to grams, but often more or the isolation of "analytical quantities" of the substance of interest (where the focus is on identifying and quantifying the substance (for example, in biological tissue or fluid). The amount isolated depends on the analytical method, but is generally less than one microgram. The methods of isolation to achieve the two scales of product are distinct, but include extraction, precipitation, adsorption,
chromatography In chemical analysis, chromatography is a laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture into its components. The mixture is dissolved in a fluid solvent (gas or liquid) called the ''mobile phase'', which carries it through a system ...
, and
crystallization Crystallization is the process by which solid forms, where the atoms or molecules are highly organized into a structure known as a crystal. Some ways by which crystals form are precipitating from a solution, freezing, or more rarely dep ...
. In both cases, the isolated substance is purified to chemical homogeneity; combined separation and analytical methods, such as LC-MS, are chosen to be "orthogonal"—achieving their separations based on distinct modes of interaction between substance and isolating matrix—to detect a single species in the pure sample. ''Structure determination'' refers to the methods to determine the chemical structure of an isolated pure steroid, using an evolving array of chemical and physical methods which have included
NMR Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a physical phenomenon in which nuclei in a strong constant magnetic field are perturbed by a weak oscillating magnetic field (in the near field) and respond by producing an electromagnetic signal with a ...
and small-molecule
crystallography Crystallography is the experimental science of determining the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids. Crystallography is a fundamental subject in the fields of materials science and solid-state physics ( condensed matter physics). The w ...
. ''Methods of analysis'' overlap both of the above areas, emphasizing analytical methods to determining if a steroid is present in a mixture and determining its quantity.


Chemical synthesis

Microbial
catabolism Catabolism () is the set of metabolic pathways that breaks down molecules into smaller units that are either oxidized to release energy or used in other anabolic reactions. Catabolism breaks down large molecules (such as polysaccharides, lipi ...
of
phytosterol Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phyt ...
side chain In organic chemistry and biochemistry, a side chain is a chemical group that is attached to a core part of the molecule called the "main chain" or backbone. The side chain is a hydrocarbon branching element of a molecule that is attached to a ...
s yields C-19 steroids, C-22 steroids, and
17-ketosteroid 150px, Androstenedione 150px, Androsterone 150px, Estrone A ketosteroid, or an oxosteroid, is a steroid in which a hydrogen atom has been replaced with a ketone (C=O) group. A 17-ketosteroid is a ketosteroid in which the ketone is located sp ...
s (i.e.
precursor Precursor or Precursors may refer to: * Precursor (religion), a forerunner, predecessor ** The Precursor, John the Baptist Science and technology * Precursor (bird), a hypothesized genus of fossil birds that was composed of fossilized parts of u ...
s to adrenocortical hormones and
contraceptive Birth control, also known as contraception, anticonception, and fertility control, is the use of methods or devices to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Birth control has been used since ancient times, but effective and safe methods of birth cont ...
s). The addition and modification of
functional group In organic chemistry, a functional group is a substituent or moiety in a molecule that causes the molecule's characteristic chemical reactions. The same functional group will undergo the same or similar chemical reactions regardless of the res ...
s is key when producing the wide variety of medications available within this chemical classification. These modifications are performed using conventional
organic synthesis Organic synthesis is a special branch of chemical synthesis and is concerned with the intentional construction of organic compounds. Organic molecules are often more complex than inorganic compounds, and their synthesis has developed into one o ...
and/or
biotransformation Biotransformation is the biochemical modification of one chemical compound or a mixture of chemical compounds. Biotransformations can be conducted with whole cells, their lysates, or purified enzymes. Increasingly, biotransformations are effected w ...
techniques.


Precursors


Semisynthesis

The
semisynthesis Semisynthesis, or partial chemical synthesis, is a type of chemical synthesis that uses chemical compounds isolated from natural sources (such as microbial cell cultures or plant material) as the starting materials to produce novel compounds with ...
of steroids often begins from precursors such as
cholesterol Cholesterol is any of a class of certain organic molecules called lipids. It is a sterol (or modified steroid), a type of lipid. Cholesterol is biosynthesized by all animal cells and is an essential structural component of animal cell ...
,
phytosterol Phytosterols are phytosteroids, similar to cholesterol, that serve as structural components of biological membranes of plants. They encompass plant sterols and stanols. More than 250 sterols and related compounds have been identified. Free phyt ...
s, or
sapogenin Sapogenins are the aglycones, or non-saccharide, portions of the family of natural products known as saponins. Sapogenins contain steroid or other triterpene frameworks as their key organic feature. For example, steroidal sapogenins such as tigge ...
s. The efforts of Syntex, a company involved in the Mexican barbasco trade, used '' Dioscorea mexicana'' to produce the sapogenin
diosgenin Diosgenin, a phytosteroid sapogenin, is the product of hydrolysis by acids, strong bases, or enzymes of saponins, extracted from the tubers of '' Dioscorea'' wild yam species, such as the Kokoro. The sugar-free ( aglycone) product of such ...
in the early days of the synthetic steroid
pharmaceutical industry The pharmaceutical industry discovers, develops, produces, and markets drugs or pharmaceutical drugs for use as medications to be administered to patients (or self-administered), with the aim to cure them, vaccinate them, or alleviate symptom ...
.


Total synthesis

Some steroidal hormones are economically obtained only by
total synthesis Total synthesis is the complete chemical synthesis of a complex molecule, often a natural product, from simple, commercially-available precursors. It usually refers to a process not involving the aid of biological processes, which distinguishes ...
from
petrochemical Petrochemicals (sometimes abbreviated as petchems) are the chemical products obtained from petroleum by refining. Some chemical compounds made from petroleum are also obtained from other fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, or renewable s ...
s (e.g. 13- alkyl steroids). For example, the pharmaceutical
Norgestrel Norgestrel, sold under the brand name Ovral among others, is a progestin medication which is used in birth control pills and in menopausal hormone therapy. It is available both in combination with an estrogen and alone. It is taken by mouth. ...
begins from
methoxy In organic chemistry, a methoxy group is the functional group consisting of a methyl group bound to oxygen. This alkoxy group has the formula . On a benzene ring, the Hammett equation classifies a methoxy substituent at the ''para'' position ...
-
1-tetralone 1-Tetralone is a bicyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and a ketone. In terms of its structure, it can also be regarded as benzo-fused cyclohexanone. It is a colorless oil with a faint odor. It is used as starting material for agricultural and pharmace ...
, a petrochemical derived from
phenol Phenol (also called carbolic acid) is an aromatic organic compound with the molecular formula . It is a white crystalline solid that is volatile. The molecule consists of a phenyl group () bonded to a hydroxy group (). Mildly acidic, it requi ...
.


Research awards

A number of
Nobel Prize The Nobel Prizes ( ; sv, Nobelpriset ; no, Nobelprisen ) are five separate prizes that, according to Alfred Nobel's will of 1895, are awarded to "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind." Alfre ...
s have been awarded for steroid research, including: * 1927 (
Chemistry Chemistry is the scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the elements that make up matter to the compounds made of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, ...
)
Heinrich Otto Wieland Heinrich Otto Wieland (; 4 June 1877 – 5 August 1957) was a German chemist. He won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research into the bile acids. Career In 1901 Wieland received his doctorate at the University of Munich while studyin ...
— Constitution of bile acids and sterols and their connection to vitamins * 1928 (Chemistry) Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus — Constitution of sterols and their connection to vitamins * 1939 (Chemistry)
Adolf Butenandt Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt (; 24 March 1903 – 18 January 1995) was a German biochemist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1939 for his "work on sex hormones." He initially rejected the award in accordance with government pol ...
and Leopold Ružička — Isolation and structural studies of steroid sex hormones, and related studies on higher
terpene Terpenes () are a class of natural products consisting of compounds with the formula (C5H8)n for n > 1. Comprising more than 30,000 compounds, these unsaturated hydrocarbons are produced predominantly by plants, particularly conifers. Terpenes ar ...
s * 1950 (
Physiology or Medicine The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded yearly by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Institute for outstanding discoveries in physiology or medicine. The Nobel Pr ...
)
Edward Calvin Kendall Edward Calvin Kendall (March 8, 1886 – May 4, 1972) was an American chemist. In 1950, Kendall was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine along with Swiss chemist Tadeusz Reichstein and Mayo Clinic physician Philip S. Hench, for th ...
,
Tadeus Reichstein Tadeusz Reichstein (20 July 1897 – 1 August 1996) was a Polish-Swiss chemist and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine laureate (1950), which was awarded for his work on the isolation of cortisone. Early life Reichstein was born into a ...
, and Philip Hench — Structure and biological effects of adrenal hormones * 1965 (Chemistry)
Robert Burns Woodward Robert Burns Woodward (April 10, 1917 – July 8, 1979) was an American organic chemist. He is considered by many to be the most preeminent synthetic organic chemist of the twentieth century, having made many key contributions to the subject, ...
— In part, for the synthesis of cholesterol,
cortisone Cortisone is a pregnene (21-carbon) steroid hormone. It is a naturally-occurring corticosteroid metabolite that is also used as a pharmaceutical prodrug; it is not synthesized in the adrenal glands. Cortisol is converted by the action of the enzy ...
, and
lanosterol Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived. By contrast plant steroids are produced via cycloartenol. Role in biosynthesis of other steroids Elaboration of lanosterol under ...
* 1969 (Chemistry) Derek Barton and Odd Hassel — Development of the concept of conformation in chemistry, emphasizing the steroid nucleus * 1975 (Chemistry)
Vladimir Prelog Vladimir Prelog (23 July 1906 – 7 January 1998) was a Croatian-Swiss organic chemist who received the 1975 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research into the stereochemistry of organic molecules and reactions. Prelog was born and grew up in ...
— In part, for developing methods to determine the stereochemical course of cholesterol biosynthesis from mevalonic acid via
squalene Squalene is an organic compound. It is a triterpenoid with the formula C30H50. It is a colourless oil, although impure samples appear yellow. It was originally obtained from shark liver oil (hence its name, as '' Squalus'' is a genus of sharks). ...


See also

*
Adrenal gland The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline and the steroids aldosterone and cortisol. They are found above the kidneys. Each gland has an outer cortex whic ...
*
Batrachotoxin Batrachotoxin (BTX) is an extremely potent cardio- and neurotoxic steroidal alkaloid found in certain species of beetles, birds, and frogs. The name is from the Greek word grc, βάτραχος, bátrachos, frog, label=none. Structurally-relate ...
* List of steroid abbreviations * List of steroids * Membrane steroid receptor *
Pheromone A pheromone () is a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting like hormones outside the body of the secreting individual, to affect the behavio ...
* Reverse cholesterol transport *
Steroidogenesis inhibitor A steroidogenesis inhibitor, also known as a steroid biosynthesis inhibitor, is a type of drug which inhibits one or more of the enzymes that are involved in the process of steroidogenesis, the biosynthesis of endogenous steroids and steroid ho ...
*
Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein The steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, commonly referred to as StAR (STARD1), is a transport protein that regulates cholesterol transfer within the mitochondria, which is the rate-limiting step in the production of steroid hormones. It is ...
*
Steroidogenic enzyme __NOTOC__ Steroidogenic enzymes are enzymes that are involved in steroidogenesis and steroid biosynthesis. They are responsible for the biosynthesis of the steroid hormones, including sex steroids ( androgens, estrogens, and progestogens) an ...


References


Bibliography

* * * A concise history of the study of steroids. * A review of the history of steroid synthesis, especially
biomimetic Biomimetics or biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The terms "biomimetics" and "biomimicry" are derived from grc, βίος (''bios''), life, and μίμησ ...
. * Adrenal steroidogenesis pathway. * * {{Authority control Metabolic pathways Wikipedia articles with sections published in WikiJournal of Medicine