The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology

Molecular aspects of brain aromatase cytochrome P450.

PMID 9365213


Aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450arom) enzyme activity catalyses the conversion of androgens to estrogens in specific brain areas. During central nervous system (CNS) development local estrogen formation influences sexual differentiation of neural structures, regulates neuroendocrine functions and sexual behavior. A proposed mechanism (and re-examination) of the sexual differentiation of the rodent brain is presented. The metabolic pathway of androgen metabolism by P450arom was characterized in the medial basal hypothalamic (MBH) tissue from male rats during various prenatal and postnatal developmental intervals. The P450arom enzyme activity was determined using a saturating concentration of [3H]testosterone as the substrate, and the rates were quantified by scintillation counting. The MBH P450arom activity was highest during prenatal development (i.e. 3-6 pmol/h/mg protein), declined to moderate levels in newborns and infantile animals (approximately 1 pmol/h/mg protein) and then continued to decline to low activity rates in adult animals (approximately 80 fmol/h/mg protein). Regulation of the P450arom gene was characterized by a series of molecular biology studies where the controlling mechanism for brain P450arom was determined in MBH and amygdaloid tissue sites. Evidence for brain P450arom-specific mRNA in perinatal rats is presented as well as comparisons with rat ovary, a rat Leydig tumor cell line (R2C) and human fetal brain P450arom. Specifically, P450arom gene expression is driven in perinatal rat brain tissue by a different promoter compared to rat ovarian tissue or a R2C cell line, whereas human fetal brain tissue utilizes an almost identical promoter segment to that observed in the rodent. These findings provide an insight into the regulation of brain P450arom gene expression and suggest that there is an additional level of control for the expression of this gene during perinatal development. However, further study is necessary to understand the molecular basis of this complex developmental pattern of brain P450arom expression.

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