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G Pelletier, V Luu-The, M El-Alfy, S Li, and F Labrie

The subcellular distribution of steroidogenic enzymes has so far been studied mostly in classical endocrine glands and in the placenta. In the peripheral intracrine organs which synthesize sex steroids there is no indication about the organelles which contain the enzymes involved in steroid biosynthesis. We have thus investigated the subcellular localization of two enzymes involved in the production of sex steroids, namely 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3beta-HSD) and type 5 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17beta-HSD). Using specific antibodies to these enzymes, we conducted immunoelectron microscopic studies in two peripheral tissues, namely the human prostate and mammary gland. In the prostate, immunolabelling for both 3beta-HSD and type 5 17beta-HSD was detected in the basal cells of the tube-alveoli as well as in fibroblasts and endothelial cells lining the blood vessels. In all the labelled cell types, the gold particles were distributed throughout the cytoplasm. No obvious association with any specific organelle could be observed, although some concentration of gold particles was occasionally found over bundles of microfilaments. In mammary gland sections immunolabelled for 3beta-HSD or type 5 17beta-HSD localization, labelling was observed in the cytoplasm of the secretory epithelial cells in both the acini and terminal ducts. Immunolabelling was also found in the endothelial cells as well as in fibroblasts in stroma and blood vessels. The gold particles were not detected over any organelles, except with the occasional accumulation of gold particles over microfilaments. The present data on the localization of two steroidogenic enzymes leading to the synthesis of testosterone indicate that these enzymes are located not only in epithelial cells but also in stromal and endothelial cells in both tissues studied. The absence of any association of the enzymes with membrane-bound organelles appears as a common finding in the reactive cell types of two peripheral tissues.

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F Labrie, V Luu-The, SX Lin, J Simard, C Labrie, M El-Alfy, G Pelletier, and A Belanger

In women and men, an important proportion of estrogens and androgens are synthesized locally at their site of action in peripheral target tissues. This new field of endocrinology has been called intracrinology. In postmenopausal women, 100% of active sex steroids are synthesized in peripheral target tissues from inactive steroid precursors while, in adult men, approximately 50% of androgens are made locally in intracrine target tissues. The last and key step in the formation of all estrogens and androgens is catalyzed by members of the family of 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (17 beta-HSDs) while different 17 beta-HSDs inactivate these steroids in the same cell where synthesis takes place. To date, seven human 17 beta-HSDs have been cloned, sequenced and characterized. The 17 beta-HSDs provide each cell with the means of precisely controlling the intracellular concentration of each sex steroid according to local needs.