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Jonathan Wesley Nyce

Androgens play a fundamental role in the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, inducing both the ACE-2 receptor to which SARS-CoV-2 binds to gain entry into the cell, and TMPRS22, the transmembrane protease that primes the viral spike protein for efficient infection. The United States stands alone among developed nations in permitting one androgen, oral dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), to be freely available OTC and online as a “dietary supplement.” DHEA is widely used by males in the US to offset the age-related decline in circulating androgens. This fact may contribute to the disparate statistics of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in this country. In regulatory antithesis, every other developed nation regulates DHEA as a controlled substance. DHEA is an extremely potent inhibitor of Glucose-6-phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD), with uniquely unstable uncompetitive inhibition kinetics. This has particular relevance to COVID-19, because G6PD-deficient human cells have been demonstrated to be exceptionally sensitive to infection by human coronavirus. Because DHEA is lipophilic and freely passes into cells, oral DHEA bypasses the normal controls regulating androgen biology and uncompetitive G6PD inhibition. DHEA’s status as a “dietary supplement” means that no clinical trials demonstrating safety have been performed, and, in the absence of physician supervision, no data on adverse events has been collected. During the current pandemic, the unrestricted availability of oral DHEA as a “dietary supplement” cannot be considered safe without proof from placebo-controlled clinical trials that it is not contributing to the severity of COVID-19. US physicians may therefore wish to query their patients’ use of DHEA.

Free access

Atsushi Mizokami, Eitetsu Koh, Kouji Izumi, Kazutaka Narimoto, Masashi Takeda, Seijiro Honma, Jinlu Dai, Evan T Keller, and Mikio Namiki

One of the mechanisms through which advanced prostate cancer (PCa) usually relapses after androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) is the adaptation to residual androgens in PCa tissue. It has been observed that androgen biosynthesis in PCa tissue plays an important role in this adaptation. In the present study, we investigated how stromal cells affect adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) metabolism in androgen-sensitive PCa LNCaP cells. DHEA alone had little effect on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) promoter activity and the proliferation of LNCaP cells. However, the addition of prostate stromal cells or PCa-derived stromal cells (PCaSC) increased DHEA-induced PSA promoter activity via androgen receptor activation in the LNCaP cells. Moreover, PCaSC stimulated the proliferation of LNCaP cells under physiological concentrations of DHEA. Biosynthesis of testosterone or dihydrotestosterone from DHEA in stromal cells and LNCaP cells was involved in this stimulation of LNCaP cell proliferation. Androgen biosynthesis from DHEA depended upon the activity of various steroidogenic enzymes present in stromal cells. Finally, the dual 5α-reductase inhibitor dutasteride appears to function not only as a 5α-reductase inhibitor but also as a 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase inhibitor in LNCaP cells. Taken together, this coculture assay system provides new insights of coordinate androgen biosynthesis under the microenvironment of PCa cells before and after ADT, and offers a model system for the identification of important steroidogenic enzymes involved in PCa progression and for the development of the corresponding inhibitors of androgen biosynthesis.

Open access

Jonathan W Nyce

The activation of TP53 is well known to exert tumor suppressive effects. We have detected a primate-specific adrenal androgen-mediated tumor suppression system in which circulating DHEAS is converted to DHEA specifically in cells in which TP53 has been inactivated. DHEA is an uncompetitive inhibitor of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), an enzyme indispensable for maintaining reactive oxygen species within limits survivable by the cell. Uncompetitive inhibition is otherwise unknown in natural systems because it becomes irreversible in the presence of high concentrations of substrate and inhibitor. In addition to primate-specific circulating DHEAS, a unique, primate-specific sequence motif that disables an activating regulatory site in the glucose-6-phosphatase (G6PC) promoter was also required to enable function of this previously unrecognized tumor suppression system. In human somatic cells, loss of TP53 thus triggers activation of DHEAS transport proteins and steroid sulfatase, which converts circulating DHEAS into intracellular DHEA, and hexokinase which increases glucose-6-phosphate substrate concentration. The triggering of these enzymes in the TP53-affected cell combines with the primate-specific G6PC promoter sequence motif that enables G6P substrate accumulation, driving uncompetitive inhibition of G6PD to irreversibility and ROS-mediated cell death. By this catastrophic ‘kill switch’ mechanism, TP53 mutations are effectively prevented from initiating tumorigenesis in the somatic cells of humans, the primate with the highest peak levels of circulating DHEAS. TP53 mutations in human tumors therefore represent fossils of kill switch failure resulting from an age-related decline in circulating DHEAS, a potentially reversible artifact of hominid evolution.

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M J Reed, A Purohit, L W L Woo, and B V L Potter

Introduction Steroid sulphatases regulate many important physiological processes, including the formation of neurosteroids, some aspects of reproductive function and part of the immune response. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphatase in macrophages regulates the progression of T0 helper cells to the Th1 phenotype (Daynes et al. 1993, Rook et al. 1994) which secrete cytokines which may be involved in the development of some autoimmune diseases. However, their pivotal role in regulating oestrogen synthesis in endocrine-dependent tumours has been the greatest stimulus in developing potent steroid sulphatase inhibitors. Carlstrom et al. (1984a) made the initial observation that danazol, an isoxazole derivative of 17α-ethinyl testosterone, possessed steroid sulphatase inhibitory properties when it was found that the ratio of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEA-S) to unconjugated DHEA increased in women treated with this drug for endometriosis. Subsequent in vitro studies confirmed the ability of danazol to inhibit DHEA sulphatase activity in breast tissues (Carlstrom et al. 1984b).
Free access

Christy G Woolcott, Yurii B Shvetsov, Frank Z Stanczyk, Lynne R Wilkens, Kami K White, Christian Caberto, Brian E Henderson, Loïc Le Marchand, Laurence N Kolonel, and Marc T Goodman

To add to the existing evidence that comes mostly from White populations, we conducted a nested case–control study to examine the association between sex hormones and breast cancer risk within the Multiethnic Cohort that includes Japanese American, White, Native Hawaiian, African American, and Latina women. Of the postmenopausal women for whom we had a plasma sample, 132 developed breast cancer during follow-up. Two controls per case, matched on study area (Hawaii, Los Angeles), ethnicity/race, birth year, date and time of blood draw and time fasting, were randomly selected from the women who had not developed breast cancer. Levels of estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and testosterone were quantified by RIA after organic extraction and Celite column partition chromatography. E1 sulfate, DHEA sulfate (DHEAS), and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) were quantified by direct immunoassays. Based on conditional logistic regression, the sex hormones were positively associated and SHBG was negatively associated with breast cancer risk. All associations, except those with DHEAS and testosterone showed a significant linear trend. The odds ratio (OR) associated with a doubling of E2 levels was 2.26 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.58–3.25), and the OR associated with a doubling of testosterone levels was 1.34 (95% CI 0.98–1.82). The associations in Japanese American women, who constituted 54% of our sample, were similar to or nonsignificantly stronger than in the overall group. This study provides the best evidence to date that the association between sex hormones and breast cancer risk is generalizable to an ethnically diverse population.

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M J Reed, R W Cheng, P A Beranek, and V H T James

There is evidence that the free, biologically active fraction of sex steroids in the plasma, is increased in subjects with endocrine-dependent tumours. However, little is known about factors which influence the distribution of these hormones in plasma. In order to investigate this, cortisol (14 μM) was infused, or ACTH (Synacthen, 250 μg, i.v.) was injected into male subjects and this resulted in a significant decrease (up to 38% from basal values) in the fraction of testosterone not bound to sex-hormone binding globulin (non-SHBG bound testosterone). The decrease in the non-SHBG bound testosterone fraction was accompanied by an increase (up to 20% from basal values) in the non-SHBG bound oestradiol fraction after ACTH injection. No significant changes in the unbound concentrations of testosterone or oestradiol were detected. The addition of cortisol (250 nM) to a plasma pool obtained from male subjects resulted in a similar decrease in the non-SHBG bound testosterone
Free access

R Kaaks, S Rinaldi, T J Key, F Berrino, P H M Peeters, C Biessy, L Dossus, A Lukanova, S Bingham, K-T Khaw, N E Allen, H B Bueno-de-Mesquita, C H van Gils, D Grobbee, H Boeing, P H Lahmann, G Nagel, J Chang-Claude, F Clavel-Chapelon, A Fournier, A Thiébaut, C A González, J R Quirós, M-J Tormo, E Ardanaz, P Amiano, V Krogh, D Palli, S Panico, R Tumino, P Vineis, A Trichopoulou, V Kalapothaki, D Trichopoulos, P Ferrari, T Norat, R Saracci, and E Riboli

Considerable experimental and epidemiological evidence suggests that elevated endogenous sex steroids — notably androgens and oestrogens — promote breast tumour development. In spite of this evidence, postmenopausal androgen replacement therapy with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or testosterone has been advocated for the prevention of osteoporosis and improved sexual well-being. We have conducted a case–control study nested within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Levels of DHEA sulphate (DHEAS), (Δ4-androstenedione), testosterone, oestrone, oestradiol and sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) were measured in prediagnostic serum samples of 677 postmenopausal women who subsequently developed breast cancer and 1309 matched control subjects. Levels of free testosterone and free oestradiol were calculated from absolute concentrations of testosterone, oestradiol and SHBG. Logistic regression models were used to estimate relative risks of breast cancer by quintiles of hormone concentrations. For all sex steroids –the androgens as well as the oestrogens – elevated serum levels were positively associated with breast cancer risk, while SHBG levels were inversely related to risk. For the androgens, relative risk estimates (95% confidence intervals) between the top and bottom quintiles of the exposure distribution were: DHEAS 1.69 (1.23–2.33), androstenedione 1.94 (1.40–2.69), testosterone 1.85 (1.33–2.57) and free testosterone 2.50 (1.76–3.55). For the oestrogens, relative risk estimates were: oestrone 2.07 (1.42–3.02), oestradiol 2.28 (1.61–3.23) and free oestradiol (odds ratios 2.13 (1.52–2.98)). Adjustments for body mass index or other potential confounding factors did not substantially alter any of these relative risk estimates. Our results have shown that, among postmenopausal women, not only elevated serum oestrogens but also serum androgens are associated with increased breast cancer risk. Since DHEAS and androstenedione are largely of adrenal origin in postmenopausal women, our results indicated that elevated adrenal androgen synthesis is a risk factor for breast cancer. The results from this study caution against the use of DHEA(S), or other androgens, for postmenopausal androgen replacement therapy.

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Y de Keyzer, D Vieau, A Picon, and X Bertagna

Cushing's syndrome refers to the manifestations induced by chronic exposure to glucocorticoid excess and may result from various causes that are all associated with tumors. The most frequent one, that which was first recognized by Harvey Cushing (Cushing 1932) – and therefore called Cushing's disease – is due to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) hypersecretion by a pituitary corticotrope adenoma; the ectopic ACTH syndrome is another, much rarer (∼5-10%) one, caused by a variety of so-called ACTH-secreting non-pituitary tumors; finally, approximately 30% of Cushing's syndromes are ACTH-non-dependent, caused by primary adrenocortical tumors, most often unilateral and either benign or malignant. The first case of ectopic ACTH syndrome was probably reported by Brown (1928) who described the case of a bearded woman with diabetes. At that time the author had no idea that ACTH existed. The discovery of ACTH, the development of an ACTH bioassay, and the pioneering work of Liddle's group eventually led
Free access

Fernand Labrie

The discovery of medical castration with GnRH agonists in 1979 rapidly replaced surgical castration and high doses of estrogens for the treatment of prostate cancer. Soon afterwards, it was discovered that androgens were made locally in the prostate from the inactive precursor DHEA of adrenal origin, a mechanism called intracrinology. Taking into account these novel facts, combined androgen blockade (CAB) using a pure antiandrogen combined with castration in order to block the two sources of androgens was first published in 1982. CAB was the first treatment shown in randomized and placebo-controlled trials to prolong life in prostate cancer, even at the metastatic stage. Most importantly, the results recently obtained with the novel pure antiandrogen enzalutamide as well as with abiraterone, an inhibitor of 17α-hydroxylase in castration-resistant prostate cancer, has revitalized the CAB concept. The effects of CAB observed on survival of heavily pretreated patients further demonstrates the importance of the androgens made locally in the prostate and are a strong motivation to apply CAB to efficiently block all sources of androgens earlier at start of treatment and, even better, before metastasis occurs. The future of research in this field thus seems to be centered on the development of more potent blockers of androgens formation and action in order to obtain better results at the metastatic stage and, for the localized stage, reduce the duration of treatment required to achieve complete apoptosis and control of prostate cancer proliferation before it reaches the metastatic or noncurable stage.

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Fady Hannah-Shmouni, Annabel Berthon, Fabio R Faucz, Juan Medina Briceno, Andrea Gutierrez Maria, Andrew Demidowich, Mirko Peitzsch, Jimmy Masjkur, Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano, Anna Vaczlavik, Jérôme Bertherat, Martin Reincke, Graeme Eisenhofer, and Constantine A Stratakis

Biochemical characterization of primary bilateral macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia (PBMAH) by distinct plasma steroid profiles and its putative correlation to disease has not been previously studied. LC-MS/MS–based steroid profiling of 16 plasma steroids was applied to 36 subjects (22 females, 14 males) with PBMAH, 19 subjects (16 females, 3 males) with other forms of adrenal Cushing's syndrome (ACS), and an age and sex-matched control group. Germline ARMC5 sequencing was performed in all PBMAH cases. Compared to controls, PBMAH showed increased plasma 11-deoxycortisol, corticosterone, 11-deoxycorticosterone, 18-hydroxycortisol, and aldosterone, but lower progesterone, DHEA, and DHEA-S with distinct differences in subjects with and without pathogenic variants in ARMC5. Steroids that showed isolated differences included cortisol and 18-oxocortisol with higher (P < 0.05) concentrations in ACS than in controls and aldosterone with higher concentrations in PBMAH when compared to controls. Larger differences in PBMAH than with ACS were most clear for corticosterone, but there were also trends in this direction for 18-hydroxycortisol and aldosterone. Logistic regression analysis indicated four steroids – DHEA, 11-deoxycortisol, 18-oxocortisol, and corticosterone – with the most power for distinguishing the groups. Discriminant analyses with step-wise variable selection indicated correct classification of 95.2% of all subjects of the four groups using a panel of nine steroids; correct classification of subjects with and without germline variants in ARMC5 was achieved in 91.7% of subjects with PBMAH. Subjects with PBMAH show distinctive plasma steroid profiles that may offer a supplementary single-test alternative for screening purposes.