Brain research. Molecular brain research

DHEA and DHEA sulfate differentially regulate neural androgen receptor and its transcriptional activity.

PMID 15249140


The mechanism of action of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), two interconvertable neurosteroids, has not been fully characterized in the central nervous system (CNS). Previous studies demonstrated that DHEA was intrinsically androgenic, suggesting that it may act through a genomic pathway. However, it is not known whether DHEA-S also produces androgenic effects, an important question given that the concentration of DHEA-S in brain is some 7-12 times that of DHEA. The current study compared the potential androgenic effects of DHEA-S with DHEA by examining their capacity to induce two characteristic effects of an androgenic compound. These included the ability to (1) up-regulate neural androgen receptor (AR) protein level in mouse brain and immortalized GT1-7 hypothalamic cells and (2) assess their effect on reporter gene expression through AR in CV-1 cells cotransfected with pSG5-AR and pMMTV-ARE-CAT reporter. Semi-quantitative Western blot analysis showed that DHEA treatment significantly augmented AR in mouse brain and GT1-7 cells in a dose-dependent manner and that these effects were not blocked by trilostane (TRIL), a known 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase inhibitor. DHEA also promoted AR-mediated reporter gene expression as a function of dose and the effect was comparable with or without the addition of TRIL. In contrast, DHEA-S treatment failed to increase AR level in the mouse brain or GT1-7 cells and modestly induced AR-mediated reporter gene expression only at substantially elevated concentrations compared to DHEA. The findings demonstrate that DHEA is capable of exerting androgenic effects through AR while the androgenicity of DHEA-S is negligible. The implications of the results for models of the mechanism of action of DHEA and its sulfate ester, DHEA-S, in the brain are considered.