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Neurochemistry international  2007;52(4-5):611-620.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an abundant circulating prohormone in humans, with a variety of reported actions on central and peripheral tissues. Despite its abundance, the functions of DHEA are relatively unknown because common animal models (laboratory rats and mice) have very low DHEA levels in the blood. Over the past decade, we have obtained considerable evidence from avian studies demonstrating that (1) DHEA is an important circulating prohormone in songbirds and (2) the enzyme 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/isomerase (3β-HSD), responsible for converting DHEA into a more active androgen, is expressed at high levels in the songbird brain. Here, we first review biochemical and molecular studies demonstrating the widespread activity and expression of 3β-HSD in the adult and developing songbird brain. Studies examining neural 3β-HSD activity show effects of sex, stress, and season that are region-specific. Second, we review studies showing seasonal and stress-related changes in circulating DHEA in captive and wild songbird species. Third, we describe evidence that DHEA treatment can stimulate song behavior and the growth of neural circuits controlling song behavior. Importantly, brain 3β-HSD and aromatase can work in concert to locally metabolize DHEA into active androgens and estrogens, which are critical for controlling behavior and robust adult neuroplasticity in songbirds. DHEA is likely secreted by the avian gonads and/or adrenals, as is the case in humans, but DHEA may also be synthesized de novo in the songbird brain from cholesterol or other precursors. Irrespective of its source, DHEA seems to be an important neurohormone in songbirds, and 3β-HSD is a key enzyme in the songbird brain.
PMCID: PMC2441539  PMID: 17643555
3beta-HSD; adrenal; aggression; aromatase; brain; DHEA; estrogen; neurosteroid; season; song; sparrow; stress; testosterone; zebra finch
2.  Corticosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone in songbird plasma and brain: effects of season and acute stress 
The European journal of neuroscience  2009;29(9):1905-1914.
Prolonged increases in plasma glucocorticoids can exacerbate neurodegeneration. In rats, these neurodegenerative effects can be reduced by dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an androgen precursor with anti-glucocorticoid actions. In song sparrows, season and acute restraint stress affect circulating levels of corticosterone and DHEA, and the effects of stress differ in plasma collected from the brachial and jugular veins. Jugular plasma is an indirect index of the neural steroidal milieu. Here, we directly measured corticosterone and DHEA in several brain regions and jugular plasma, and examined the effects of season and acute restraint stress (30 min) (n = 571 samples). Corticosterone levels were up to 10× lower in brain than in jugular plasma. In contrast, DHEA levels were up to 5× higher in brain than in jugular plasma and were highest in the hippocampus. Corticosterone and DHEA concentrations were strongly seasonally regulated in plasma but, surprisingly, not seasonally regulated in brain. Acute stress increased corticosterone levels in plasma and brain, except during the molt, when stress unexpectedly decreased corticosterone levels in the hippocampus. Acute stress increased DHEA levels in plasma during the molt but had no effects on DHEA levels in brain. This is the first study to measure (i) corticosterone or DHEA levels in the brain of adult songbirds and (ii) seasonal changes in corticosterone or DHEA levels in the brain of any species. These results highlight several critical differences between systemic and local steroid concentrations and the difficulty of using circulating steroid levels to infer local steroid levels within the brain.
PMCID: PMC2999626  PMID: 19473242 CAMSID: cams333
DHEA; glucocorticoid; hippocampus; molt; neurosteroid; song sparrow
3.  Dehydroepiandrosterone Stimulates Nerve Growth Factor and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Cortical Neurons 
Due to the increasing cases of neurodegenerative diseases in recent years, the eventual goal of nerve repair is very important. One approach for achieving a neuronal cell induction is by regenerative pharmacology. Nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are neurotrophins that play roles in neuronal development, differentiation, and protection. On the other hand, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a neurosteroid which has multiple actions in the nervous system. DHEA could be an important agent in regenerative pharmacology for neuronal differentiation during tissue regeneration. In this study, we investigated the possible role of DHEA to modulate NGF and BDNF production. The in vivo level of neurotrophins expression was demonstrated by ELISA in rat harvested brain cortex. Also neurotrophins expression after DHEA treatment was revealed by the increased neurite extension, immunostaining, and BrdU labeling in rats. Anti-NGF and anti-BDNF antibodies were used as suppressive agents on neurogenesis. The results showed that NGF and BDNF are overproduced after DHEA treatment but there is not any overexpression for NT-3 and NT-4. Also DHEA increased neurite extension and neural cell proliferation significantly. Overall, DHEA might induce NGF and BDNF neurotrophins overproduction in cortical neurons which promotes neural cell protection, survival, and proliferation.
PMCID: PMC3867952  PMID: 24381588
4.  Dehydroepiandrosterone and Corticosterone Are Regulated by Season and Acute Stress in a Wild Songbird: Jugular Versus Brachial Plasma 
Endocrinology  2008;149(5):2537-2545.
Stress has well-known effects on adrenal glucocorticoid secretion, and chronic elevation of glucocorticoids can have detrimental effects on the brain. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an androgen precursor synthesized in the adrenal glands or the brain itself, has anti-glucocorticoid properties, but little is known about the role of DHEA in the stress response, particularly in the brain. Here, we measured the effects of acute restraint on circulating corticosterone (CORT) and DHEA levels in wild song sparrows. Blood was collected from either the brachial or jugular vein. In songbirds, jugular plasma is enriched with neurally synthesized steroids, and therefore, jugular plasma is an indirect index of the neural steroidal milieu. Subjects were sampled during four times of year: breeding, molt, early nonbreeding, and mid-nonbreeding. Baseline CORT and DHEA levels showed similar seasonal changes; both steroids were elevated during the breeding season. Baseline CORT and DHEA levels were similar in jugular and brachial plasma. Acute stress had robust effects on CORT and DHEA that were season specific and vein specific. For CORT, during the molt, stress increased jugular CORT more than brachial CORT. For DHEA, during the breeding season, stress decreased jugular DHEA but not brachial DHEA. During the molt, stress increased jugular DHEA but not brachial DHEA. Acute stress did not affect brachial DHEA. These data suggest that acute stress specifically affects the balance between DHEA synthesis and metabolism in the brain. Furthermore, these results suggest that CORT and DHEA are locally synthesized in the brain during molt, when systemic levels of CORT and DHEA are low.
PMCID: PMC2878327  PMID: 18276756 CAMSID: cams343
5.  Decreased levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate in severe critical illness: a sign of exhausted adrenal reserve? 
Critical Care  2002;6(5):434-438.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulphate (DHEAS) are pleiotropic adrenal hormones with immunostimulating and antiglucocorticoid effects. The present study was conducted to evaluate the time course of DHEAS levels in critically ill patients and to study their association with the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.
Materials and method
This was a prospective observational clinical and laboratory study, including 30 patients with septic shock, eight patients with multiple trauma, and 40 age- and sex-matched control patients. We took serial measurements of blood concentrations of DHEAS, cortisol, tumour necrosis factor-α and IL-6, and of adrenocorticotrophic hormone immunoreactivity over 14 days or until discharge/death.
On admission, DHEAS was extremely low in septic shock (1.2 ± 0.8 mol/l) in comparison with multiple trauma patients (2.4 ± 0.5 μmol/l; P < 0.05) and control patients (4.2 ± 1.8; P < 0.01). DHEAS had a significant (P < 0.01) negative correlation with age, IL-6 and Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II scores in both patient groups. Only during the acute phase did DHEAS negatively correlate with dopamine. Nonsurvivors of septic shock (n = 11) had lower DHEAS levels (0.4 ± 0.3 μmol/l) than did survivors (1.7 ± 1.1 μmol/l; P < 0.01). The time course of DHEAS exhibited a persistent depletion during follow up, whereas cortisol levels were increased at all time points.
We identified extremely low DHEAS levels in septic shock and, to a lesser degree, in multiple trauma patients as compared with those of age- and sex-matched control patients. There appeared to be a dissociation between DHEAS (decreased) and cortisol (increased) levels, which changed only slightly over time. Nonsurvivors of sepsis and patients with relative adrenal insufficiency had the lowest DHEAS values, suggesting that DHEAS might be a prognostic marker and a sign of exhausted adrenal reserve in critical illness.
PMCID: PMC130144  PMID: 12398784
adrenal insufficiency; dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate; multiple trauma; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis; sepsis
6.  Androstenediol Complements Estrogenic Bioactivity during the Menopausal Transition 
Menopause (New York, N.y.)  2012;19(6):650-657.
The perimenopausal increase in circulating dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) levels during the menopausal transition (MT) is accompanied by other adrenal steroids that have the potential to alter the estrogen/androgen balance and explain the wide inter-woman range of estrogen-related symptoms experienced during the MT.
Annual serum samples from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), which had previously been analyzed for immunoreactive estradiol (E2), testosterone (T), DHEAS and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), were selected based on DHEAS concentration and analyzed for immunoreactive and bioactive estrogens and androgens, including immunoreactive androstenedione (Adione), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and 5-androstene-3β,17β-diol (androstenediol, Adiol).
A two-fold increase in circulating Adione and T was found to rise in parallel with the rise in circulating DHEAS, while DHEA and Adiol concentrations rose seven to eightfold. Circulating Adiol, which has both androgenic and estrogenic biological activity, was significantly associated (p<0.02) with circulating estrogen bioactivity only when E2 concentrations were low and Adiol levels were high.
The wide range of circulating levels of Adiol and its contribution to total circulating estrogenicity during the MT is consistent with the observed inter-woman difference in symptoms at this time. Therefore, we conclude that Adiol contributes to circulating estrogenicity when E2 production falls at menopause and may contribute significantly to the endocrine changes experienced by midlife women.
PMCID: PMC3366061  PMID: 22415563
Androstenediol; estrogenicity; menopause; adrenal
7.  Aggressive interactions rapidly increase androgen synthesis in the brain during the non-breeding season 
Hormones and behavior  2010;57(4-5):381-389.
In male song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), territorial challenges during the breeding season can rapidly increase circulating levels of testosterone (T). During the non-breeding season, male song sparrows are highly aggressive, but the gonads are regressed and plasma T levels are non-detectable and unaffected by territorial challenges. The pro-hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is elevated in song sparrow plasma and brain during the non-breeding season and may be locally converted to sex steroids in the brain to regulate aggression. The enzyme 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/Δ5-Δ4 isomerase (3β-HSD) converts DHEA to androstenedione (AE) using the cofactor NAD+, and this is a critical rate-limiting step. We predicted that brain 3β-HSD activity varies seasonally and is rapidly modulated by aggressive challenges. In the first study, brain 3β-HSD activity was highest in the non-breeding season in specific regions. In the second study, a simulated territorial challenge rapidly increased aggressive behavior in non-breeding song sparrows. Brain 3β-HSD activity, when measured without exogenous NAD+, increased by ∼250 to 500% in telencephalic regions of challenged subjects. When brain 3β-HSD activity was measured with exogenous NAD+, these effects of territorial challenges were not observed. These data suggest that territorial challenges rapidly increase endogenous NAD+levels or increase 3β-HSD activity specifically within a NAD-rich subcellular compartment. Together, these two studies suggest a shift from systemic to local sex steroid signaling in the non-breeding season. Local steroid signaling produces high spatial and temporal specificity of steroid signals and avoids the costs of high systemic T levels during the non-breeding season.
PMCID: PMC2849911  PMID: 20116379
3beta-HSD; aggression; androstenedione; aromatase; coenzyme; cofactor; DHEA; estrogens; intracrine; NAD+; neurosteroid; song sparrow; songbird; testosterone; Challenge Hypothesis; estradiol
8.  Administration of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) Enhances Visual-Spatial Performance in Post-Menopausal Women 
Behavioral neuroscience  2011;125(5):742-752.
The current paper examines the effect of administering Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on visual-spatial performance in post-menopausal women (N=24, ages 55-80). The concurrent reduction of serum DHEA levels and visual-spatial performance in this population, coupled with the documented effects of DHEA’s androgenic metabolites on visual-spatial performance, suggest that DHEA administration may enhance visual-spatial performance. The current experiment used a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design in which 50 mg of oral DHEA was administered daily in the drug condition to explore this hypothesis. Performance on the Mental Rotation, Subject-Ordered Pointing, Fragmented Picture Identification, Perceptual Identification, Same-Different Judgment, and Visual Search tasks and serum levels of DHEA, DHEAS, testosterone, estrone and cortisol were measured in the DHEA and placebo conditions. In contrast to prior experiments using the current methodology that did not demonstrate effects of DHEA administration on episodic and short-term memory tasks, the current experiment demonstrated large beneficial effects of DHEA administration on Mental Rotation, Subject-Ordered Pointing, Fragmented Picture Identification, Perceptual Identification and Same-Different Judgment. Moreover, DHEA administration enhanced serum levels of DHEA, DHEAS, testosterone and estrone, and regression analyses demonstrated that levels of DHEA and its metabolites were positively related to cognitive performance on the visual-spatial tasks in the DHEA condition
PMCID: PMC3715689  PMID: 21942436
Dehydroepiadrosterone (DHEA); post-menopausal women; cognition; visual-spatial tasks; androgens
9.  Nonhuman Primates as models for human adrenal androgen production: function and dysfunction 
The origin of circulating DHEA and adrenal-derived androgens in humans and nonhuman primates is largely distinct from other mammalian species. In humans and many Old world primates, the fetal adrenal gland and adult zona reticularis (ZR) are known to be the source for production of DHEA (and DHEAS) in mg quantities. In spite of similarities there are also some differences. Herein, we take a comparative endocrine approach to the diversity of adrenal androgen biosynthesis and its developmental timing in three primate species to illustrate how understanding such differences may provide unique insight into mechanisms underlying adrenal androgen regulation and its pathophysiology in humans. We contrast the conventional developmental onset of adrenal DHEA biosynthesis at adrenarche in humans with (1) an earlier, peri-partutrition onset of adrenal DHEA synthesis in rhesus macaques (Old World primate) and (2) a more dynamic and reversible onset of adrenal DHEA biosynthesis in female marmosets (New World primate), and further consider these events in terms of the corresponding developmental changes in expression of CYP17, HSD3B2 and CYB5 in the ZR. We also integrate these observations with recently described biochemical characterization of CYP17 cDNA cloned from each of these nonhuman primate species and the corresponding effects of phosphorylation versus CYB5 coexpression on 17,20 lyase versus 17-hydroxylase activity in each case. In addition, female rhesus macaques exposed in utero to exogenous androgen excess, exhibit symptoms of adrenal hyperandrogenism in adult females in a manner reminiscent of that seen in the human condition of PCOS. The possible mechanisms underlying such adrenal hyperandrogenism are further considered in terms of the effects of altered relative expression of CYP17, HSD3B2 and CYB5 as well as the altered signaling responses of various kinases including protein kinase A, or the insulin sensitive PI3-kinase/AKT signaling pathway which may impact on 17,20 lyase activity. We conclude that while the triggers for the onset of ZR function in all three species show clear differences (age, stage of development, social status, gender), there are still common mechanisms driving an increase in DHEA biosynthesis in each case. A full understanding of the mechanisms that control 17,20 lyase function and dysfunction in humans may best be achieved by comparative studies of the endocrine mechanisms controlling adrenal ZR function and dysfunction in these nonhuman primate species.
PMCID: PMC2653599  PMID: 18683055
10.  Effects of 7-keto Dehydroepiandrosterone on Voluntary Ethanol Intake in Male Rats 
Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)  2010;45(4):349-354.
Administration of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a neurosteroid that can negatively modulate the GABAA receptor, has been shown to decrease voluntary intake of ethanol in rats. In vivo, DHEA can be metabolized to a variety of metabolites, including 7-keto DHEA, a metabolite without the prohormonal effects of DHEA. This study compared the effectiveness of 7-keto DHEA to DHEA for reducing ethanol intake in the same group of rats. The subjects, previously trained to drink ethanol using a saccharin-fading procedure, had access to ethanol for thirty minutes daily, and the amount consumed was recorded. Subjects were administered 10 and 56 mg/kg of DHEA or 7-keto DHEA intraperitoneally 15 minutes prior to drinking sessions. Subjects received each particular dose daily until one of two criteria was met; that is, either ethanol intake did not differ by more than 20% of the mean for three consecutive days, or for a maximum of eight days. Both 10 and 56 mg/kg of 7-keto DHEA significantly reduced the dose of ethanol consumed. While 10 mg/kg of 7-keto DHEA produced decreases similar to those found with DHEA, the 56-mg/kg dose of 7-keto DHEA was significantly more effective at decreasing the dose of ethanol consumed than the same dose of DHEA. These results show that 7-keto DHEA is comparable to, or possibly more effective than, DHEA at decreasing ethanol consumption in rats, and that 7-keto DHEA is a compound deserving further investigation as a possible clinical treatment for alcohol abuse without the prohormonal effects of DHEA.
PMCID: PMC3095668  PMID: 21051179
DHEA; 7-ketoDHEA; neurosteroid; GABAA receptor; ethanol intake; rats
11.  Renal clearance and daily excretion of cortisol and adrenal androgens in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2004;63(8):961-968.
Background: In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), patients demonstrate low levels of adrenal hormones.
Objective: To investigate whether increased renal clearance and daily excretion contribute to this phenomenon.
Methods: Thirty patients with RA, 32 with SLE, and 54 healthy subjects (HS) participated. Serum and urinary levels of cortisol, cortisone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17OHP), androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) were measured.
Results: Clearance of DHEAS and DHEA was lower in patients than in HS, and clearance of androstenedione was somewhat higher in patients than in HS, but daily excretion of this latter hormone was low. Clearance of cortisol, cortisone, and 17OHP was similar between the groups. The total molar amount per hour of excreted DHEA, DHEAS, and androstenedione was lower in patients than HS (but similar for cortisol). Serum DHEAS levels correlated with urinary DHEAS levels in HS and patients, whereby HS excreted 5–10 times more of this hormone than excreted by patients. Low serum levels of adrenal androgens and cortisol in patients as compared with HS were confirmed, and proteinuria was not associated with changes of measured renal parameters.
Conclusions: This study in patients with RA and SLE demonstrates that low serum levels of adrenal androgens and cortisol are not due to increased renal clearance and daily loss of these hormones. Decreased adrenal production or increased conversion or conjugation to downstream hormones are the most likely causes of inadequately low serum levels of adrenal hormones in RA and SLE.
PMCID: PMC1755103  PMID: 15249323
12.  Oxidative Stress-Mediated Brain Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) Formation in Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis 
Neurosteroids are steroids made by brain cells independently of peripheral steroidogenic sources. The biosynthesis of most neurosteroids is mediated by proteins and enzymes similar to those identified in the steroidogenic pathway of adrenal and gonadal cells. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a major neurosteroid identified in the brain. Over the years we have reported that, unlike other neurosteroids, DHEA biosynthesis in rat, bovine, and human brain is mediated by an oxidative stress-mediated mechanism, independent of the cytochrome P450 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase (CYP17A1) enzyme activity found in the periphery. This alternative pathway is induced by pro-oxidant agents, such as Fe2+ and β-amyloid peptide. Neurosteroids are involved in many aspects of brain function, and as such, are involved in various neuropathologies, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is a progressive, yet irreversible neurodegenerative disease for which there are limited means for ante-mortem diagnosis. Using brain tissue specimens from control and AD patients, we provided evidence that DHEA is formed in the AD brain by the oxidative stress-mediated metabolism of an unidentified precursor, thus depleting levels of the precursor in the blood stream. We tested for the presence of this DHEA precursor in human serum using a Fe2+-based reaction and determined the amounts of DHEA formed. Fe2+ treatment of the serum resulted in a dramatic increase in DHEA levels in control patients, whereas only a moderate or no increase was observed in AD patients. The DHEA variation after oxidation correlated with the patients’ cognitive and mental status. In this review, we present the cumulative evidence for oxidative stress as a natural regulator of DHEA formation and the use of this concept to develop a blood-based diagnostic tool for neurodegenerative diseases linked to oxidative stress, such as AD.
PMCID: PMC3356139  PMID: 22654823
Alzheimer’s disease; dehydroepiandrosterone; diagnostic tool; neurosteroids
13.  Neurobiological and Neuropsychiatric Effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA Sulfate (DHEAS) 
DHEA and DHEAS are steroids synthesized in human adrenals, but their function is unclear. In addition to adrenal synthesis, evidence also indicates that DHEA and DHEAS are synthesized in the brain, further suggesting a role of these hormones in brain function and development. Despite intensifying research into the biology of DHEA and DHEAS, many questions concerning their mechanisms of action and their potential involvement in neuropsychiatric illnesses remain unanswered. We review and distill the preclinical and clinical data on DHEA and DHEAS, focusing on (i) biological actions and putative mechanisms of action, (ii) differences in endogenous circulating concentrations in normal subjects and patients with neuropsychiatric diseases, and (iii) the therapeutic potential of DHEA in treating these conditions. Biological actions of DHEA and DHEAS include neuroprotection, neurite growth, and antagonistic effects on oxidants and glucocorticoids. Accumulating data suggest abnormal DHEA and/or DHEAS concentrations in several neuropsychiatric conditions. The evidence that DHEA and DHEAS may be fruitful targets for pharmacotherapy in some conditions is reviewed.
PMCID: PMC2725024  PMID: 19063914
Dehydroepiandrosterone; DHEA; DHEAS; neuroprotection; neurogenesis; apoptosis; depression; schizophrenia; dementia; cortisol
14.  Low DHEAS levels are associated with depressive symptoms in elderly Chinese men: results from a large study 
Asian Journal of Andrology  2011;13(6):898-902.
This study investigated the association between depressive symptoms in elderly Chinese men and the total testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulphate (DHEAS), oestradiol and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels, and the free androgen index. Cross-sectional data from 1147 community-dwelling elderly men, aged 65 and older, were used. Depressive symptoms were measured using the Chinese Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). Total testosterone, free testosterone, DHEA, DHEAS, total oestradiol, the free androgen index and SHBG levels were assessed. DHEA was significantly associated with GDS score, and there was a trend towards DHEAS association, but this was not significant (β=−0.110, P=0.015; β=−0.074, P=0.055). However, no association was seen between depressive symptoms and total testosterone levels, free testosterone levels, oestradiol levels or SHBG levels. In terms of the presence of clinically relevant depressive symptoms, there were no statistically significant differences between patients in the lowest quartile of sex steroid hormone levels and those in other quartiles of sex steroid hormone levels. Similarly to Western studies, our study shows that DHEA and DHEAS levels are associated with depressive symptoms.
PMCID: PMC3739563  PMID: 21874029
Chinese; dehydroepiandrosterone; depression; elderly men; testosterone
15.  Interactive Effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone and Testosterone on Cortical Thickness during Early Brain Development 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(26):10840-10848.
Humans and the great apes are the only species demonstrated to exhibit adrenarche, a key endocrine event associated with prepubertal increases in the adrenal production of androgens, most significantly dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and to a certain degree testosterone. Adrenarche also coincides with the emergence of the prosocial and neurobehavioral skills of middle childhood and may therefore represent a human-specific stage of development. Both DHEA and testosterone have been reported in animal and in vitro studies to enhance neuronal survival and programmed cell death depending on the timing, dose, and hormonal context involved, and to potentially compete for the same signaling pathways. Yet no extant brain-hormone studies have examined the interaction between DHEA- and testosterone-related cortical maturation in humans. Here, we used linear mixed models to examine changes in cortical thickness associated with salivary DHEA and testosterone levels in a longitudinal sample of developmentally healthy children and adolescents 4–22 years old. DHEA levels were associated with increases in cortical thickness of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right temporoparietal junction, right premotor and right entorhinal cortex between the ages of 4–13 years, a period marked by the androgenic changes of adrenarche. There was also an interaction between DHEA and testosterone on cortical thickness of the right cingulate cortex and occipital pole that was most significant in prepubertal subjects. DHEA and testosterone appear to interact and modulate the complex process of cortical maturation during middle childhood, consistent with evidence at the molecular level of fast/nongenomic and slow/genomic or conversion-based mechanisms underlying androgen-related brain development.
PMCID: PMC3693059  PMID: 23804104
16.  Dehydroepiandrosterone inhibits the progression phase of mammary carcinogenesis by inducing cellular senescence via a p16-dependent but p53-independent mechanism 
Breast Cancer Research  2005;7(6):R1132-R1140.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an adrenal 17-ketosteroid, is a precursor of testosterone and 17β-estradiol. Studies have shown that DHEA inhibits carcinogenesis in mammary gland and prostate as well as other organs, a process that is not hormone dependent. Little is known about the molecular mechanisms of DHEA-mediated inhibition of the neoplastic process. Here we examine whether DHEA and its analog DHEA 8354 can suppress the progression of hyperplastic and premalignant (carcinoma in situ) lesions in mammary gland toward malignant tumors and the cellular mechanisms involved.
Rats were treated with N-nitroso-N-methylurea and allowed to develop mammary hyperplastic and premalignant lesions with a maximum frequency 6 weeks after carcinogen administration. The animals were then given DHEA or DHEA 8354 in the diet at 125 or 1,000 mg/kg diet for 6 weeks. The effect of these agents on induction of apoptosis, senescence, cell proliferation, tumor burden and various effectors of cellular signaling were determined.
Both agents induced a dose-dependent decrease in tumor multiplicity and in tumor burden. In addition they induced a senescent phenotype in tumor cells, inhibited cell proliferation and increased the number of apoptotic cells. The DHEA-induced cellular effects were associated with increased expression of p16 and p21, but not p53 expression, implicating a p53-independent mechanism in their action.
We provide evidence that DHEA and DHEA 8354 can suppress mammary carcinogenesis by altering various cellular functions, inducing cellular senescence, in tumor cells with the potential involvement of p16 and p21 in mediating these effects.
PMCID: PMC1410767  PMID: 16457693
Neuroscience  2008;158(4):1644-1651.
The 5-HT re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine and the adrenal hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) both increase the proliferation of progenitor cells in the adult hippocampus and also have antidepressant activity. This paper explores the combined ability of fluoxetine and DHEA to affect this process in the dentate gyrus of adult rats. We show that DHEA can render an otherwise ineffective dose of fluoxetine (2.5 mg/kg) able to increase progenitor cell proliferation to the same extent as doses four times higher (10 mg/kg). This synergistic action does not appear to be mediated by alterations in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene expression; or by TrkB, mineralocorticoid, glucocorticoid, or 5-HT (5HT1A) receptor expression in the dentate gyrus; or by altered levels of plasma corticosterone. In a second experiment, the synergism between DHEA and fluoxetine was replicated. Furthermore, flattening the diurnal rhythm of plasma corticosterone by implanting additional corticosterone pellets s.c. prevented the effect of fluoxetine on progenitor cell division. This was not overcome by simultaneous treatment with DHEA, despite the latter’s reported anti-glucocorticoid actions. The cellular mechanism for the potentiating action of DHEA on the pro- proliferative effects of fluoxetine in the adult hippocampus remains to be revealed. Since altered neurogenesis has been linked to the onset or recovery from depression, one consequence of these results is to suggest DHEA as a useful adjunct therapy for depression.
PMCID: PMC2653077  PMID: 19068226
neurogenesis; fluoxetine; dehydroepiandrosterone; corticosterone; synergism; dentate gyrus
18.  ACE inhibitor use was associated with lower serum dehydroepiandrosterone concentrations in older men 
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) activity may influence the production of adrenal androgen precursors and testosterone. Use of ACE inhibitors may therefore have an influence on serum sex hormone concentrations in older men.
Design and Methods
1486 out of 2,000 community-dwelling Chinese men aged 65 years who participated in a cohort study were randomly selected to have archived fasting morning serum analyzed for androgen precursors and sex hormones. DNA was extracted from whole blood and analyzed for ACE gene I/D polymorphism.
Subjects with the ACE gene D allele (higher ACE activity) had higher serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) sulphate and DHEA than those with I/I genotype (P=0.014 and 0.018 respectively, Mann Whitney test). These differences were not significant after Bonferroni correction. Among those with history of hypertension, but without diabetes mellitus or cardiac failure, users of ACE inhibitors had significantly lower serum DHEA (median 1.78 versus 1.49 ng/ml in non-users, P =0.0074, Mann Whitney test) and also tended to have lower serum androstenedione and androst-5-ene-3β,17β-diol (0.68 versus 0.72 ng/ml in non-users; 552.4 versus 624.1 pg/ml respectively, both P values <0.05). Serum testosterone and estradiol were not significantly changed.
ACE inhibitor use was associated with lower serum DHEA in older men.
PMCID: PMC2883618  PMID: 20403346
androgen; dehydroepiandrosterone; angiotensin converting enzyme; angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor; gene polymorphism
19.  Dynamics of Adrenal Steroids Are Related to Variations in Th1 and Treg Populations during Mycobacterium tuberculosis Infection in HIV Positive Persons 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33061.
Tuberculosis (TB) remains the most frequent cause of illness and death from an infectious agent, and its interaction with HIV has devastating effects. We determined plasma levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), its circulating form DHEA-suphate (DHEA-s) and cortisol in different stages of M. tuberculosis infection, and explored their role on the Th1 and Treg populations during different scenarios of HIV-TB coinfection, including the immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), a condition related to antiretroviral treatment. DHEA levels were diminished in HIV-TB and HIV-TB IRIS patients compared to healthy donors (HD), HIV+ individuals and HIV+ individuals with latent TB (HIV-LTB), whereas dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-s) levels were markedly diminished in HIV-TB IRIS individuals. HIV-TB and IRIS patients presented a cortisol/DHEA ratio significantly higher than HIV+, HIV-LTB and HD individuals. A positive correlation was observed between DHEA-s and CD4 count among HIV-TB individuals. Conversely, cortisol plasma level inversely correlated with CD4 count within HIV-TB individuals. M. tuberculosis-specific Th1 lymphocyte count was increased after culturing PBMC from HIV-TB individuals in presence of DHEA. We observed an inverse correlation between DHEA-s plasma level and Treg frequency in co-infected individuals, and CD4+FoxP3+ Treg frequency was increased in HIV-TB and IRIS patients compared to other groups. Strikingly, we observed a prominent CD4+CD25-FoxP3+ population across HIV-TB and HIV-TB IRIS patients, which frequency correlated with DHEA plasma level. Finally, DHEA treatment negatively regulated FoxP3 expression without altering Treg frequency in co-infected patients. These data suggest an enhancing role for DHEA in the immune response against M. tuberculosis during HIV-TB coinfection and IRIS.
PMCID: PMC3303789  PMID: 22431997
20.  Hormonal determinants and effect of ER22/23EK glucocorticoid receptor gene polymorphism on health status deterioration in the participants of the Mataró Ageing Study 
Age  2011;34(3):553-561.
The purpose of this study is to assess the potential relationships of circulating IGF-I, adrenal and gonadal steroids, and polymorphism ER22/23EK of the glucocorticoid receptor (GC-R) gene with nutritional, functional and cognitive deterioration in a group of elderly people living independently. This is a population-based prospective study with 313 individuals (160 women and 153 men, 76.7 ± 7 years) who participated. A physical exam, evaluation of functional capacity (Barthel scale), cognitive function (mini-mental state examination-MMSE), geriatric depression scale (GDS), mininutritional assessment (MNA-SF) and cardiometabolic status were performed at basal time point and at 2 years of follow-up. Biological measurements included cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulphate, testosterone, estradiol, IGF-I and polymorphism ER22/23EK of the GC-R gene. Estradiol was associated with MNA-SF decrease over time (p < 0.01, adjusted for age and gender, beta = −0.17, p = 0.03). Weight loss was related to testosterone in men (8.6 vs 12.1 pg/ml in no losers; p = 0.03), and in women with GDS (13.0% with depression vs 3.3% with no depression; p = 0.05) and MMSE (22.2% with cognitive deterioration vs 4.8% with no cognitive deterioration; p = 0.049). Barthel decrease was associated with testosterone (p = 0.02, after adjusting for age and gender, beta = −0.520, p < 0.001), and SHBG (p < 0.01, adjusted for age and gender, beta = 0.18, p < 0.01). DHEA was associated with deterioration in the MMSE (p = 0.01, after adjusting for age, gender, GDS scale and academic status, beta = −0.26, p = 0.01). Frailty development was related only in men with testosterone levels at the beginning of the study (p = 0.017). ER22/23EK was found in 3% of the subjects and carriers had a lower prevalence of hypertension. Adrenal and gonadal steroids are associated to impairment of the ageing health condition in elderly individuals living independently in Spain. ER22/23EK polymorphism of the GC-R gene has a low prevalence in our population.
PMCID: PMC3337942  PMID: 21544576
Ageing; Steroidal hormones; Frailty; Functional capacity; Nutritional status; Cognitive function; Depression; Life Sciences; Molecular Medicine; Geriatrics/Gerontology; Cell Biology
21.  Inhibition of vascular inflammation by dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate in human aortic endothelial cells: roles of PPARα and NF-κB 
Vascular pharmacology  2007;48(0):76-84.
Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS) is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and is a precursor for both androgens and estrogens. Atherosclerosis is a well characterized inflammatory disease, but little is known about the role of DHEAS in vascular inflammation. We hypothesize that DHEAS can reduce inflammation in vascular endothelial cells and the mechanism involves the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα), thereby inhibiting transcription factors involved in endothelial cell inflammation. To test our hypothesis, aortic endothelial cells were pretreated for 48 hours with DHEAS, then with TNF-α. TNF-α-induced upregulation of the expression of inflammatory genes interleukin (IL)-8 and intracellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 was attenuated by incubation with DHEAS. DHEAS inhibited the TNF-α-induced surface expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM)-1. This effect was abolished by the addition of MK866, a PPARα inhibitor, indicating that PPARα is involved in the mechanism of this inhibition. The addition of the aromatase inhibitor letrozole had no effect on the inhibition of TNF-α-induced VCAM-1 expression by DHEAS. Treatment of endothelial cells with DHEAS dramatically inhibited the TNF-α-induced activation of NF-κB, an inflammatory transcription factor, and increased protein levels of the NF-κB inhibitor, IκB-α. These results signify the ability of DHEAS to directly inhibit the inflammatory process and show a potential direct effect of DHEAS on vascular inflammation that has implications for the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
PMCID: PMC3656484  PMID: 18255343
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; VCAM; PPAR; endothelial cell; inflammation
22.  16α-Bromoepiandrosterone, an Antimalarial Analogue of the Hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone, Enhances Phagocytosis of Ring Stage Parasitized Erythrocytes: a Novel Mechanism for Antimalarial Activity 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2002;46(10):3180-3184.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S), which are the most abundant hormones secreted by the adrenal cortex and are present in plasma at approximately 6 μM, as well as their analogue, 16α-bromoepiandrosterone (EPI), exerted antimalarial activities against two chloroquine-sensitive Plasmodium falciparum strains (Palo Alto, 50% inhibitory concentration [IC50] of EPI, 4.8 ± 0.68 μM; T996/86, IC50 of EPI, 7.5 ± 0.91 μM, and IC50 of DHEA-S, 19 ± 2.6 μM) and one mildly chloroquine-resistant strain (FCR-3, IC50 of EPI, 6.5 ± 1.01 μM). Both EPI and DHEA/DHEA-S are potent inhibitors of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), and G6PD deficiency is known to exert antimalaria protection via enhanced opsonization and phagocytosis of rings, the early forms of the parasite. Plasma-compatible antimalarial EPI concentrations did not inhibit G6PD activity and did not induce ring opsonization by immunoglobulin G and complement fragments, as observed in G6PD deficiency, but nevertheless remarkably stimulated ring phagocytosis. Plasma-compatible, low-micromolar concentrations of EPI induced exposure on the ring surface of phosphatidylserine, a signal for phagocytic removal independent of opsonization. We propose that enhanced ring phagocytosis due to exposure of negatively charged membrane phospholipids may explain the antimalarial activity of EPI.
PMCID: PMC128802  PMID: 12234842
23.  Dehydroepiandrosterone and age-related cognitive decline 
Age  2009;32(1):61-67.
In humans the circulating concentrations of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) decrease markedly during aging, and have been implicated in age-associated cognitive decline. This has led to the hypothesis that DHEA supplementation during aging may improve memory. In rodents, a cognitive anti-aging effect of DHEA and DHEAS has been observed but it is unclear whether this effect is mediated indirectly through conversion of these steroids to estradiol. Moreover, despite the demonstration of correlations between endogenous DHEA concentrations and cognitive ability in certain human patient populations, such correlations have yet to be convincingly demonstrated during normal human aging. This review highlights important differences between rodents and primates in terms of their circulating DHEA and DHEAS concentrations, and suggests that age-related changes within the human DHEA metabolic pathway may contribute to the relative inefficacy of DHEA replacement therapies in humans. The review also highlights the value of using nonhuman primates as a pragmatic animal model for testing the therapeutic potential of DHEA for age-associate cognitive decline in humans.
PMCID: PMC2829637  PMID: 19711196
Dehydroepiandrosterone; Cognitive decline; Intracrinology; Neurosteroidogenesis
24.  Dehydroepiandrosterone and age-related cognitive decline 
Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands)  2009;32(1):61-67.
In humans the circulating concentrations of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) decrease markedly during aging, and have been implicated in age-associated cognitive decline. This has led to the hypothesis that DHEA supplementation during aging may improve memory. In rodents, a cognitive anti-aging effect of DHEA and DHEAS has been observed but it is unclear whether this effect is mediated indirectly through conversion of these steroids to estradiol. Moreover, despite the demonstration of correlations between endogenous DHEA concentrations and cognitive ability in certain human patient populations, such correlations have yet to be convincingly demonstrated during normal human aging. This review highlights important differences between rodents and primates in terms of their circulating DHEA and DHEAS concentrations, and suggests that age-related changes within the human DHEA metabolic pathway may contribute to the relative inefficacy of DHEA replacement therapies in humans. The review also highlights the value of using nonhuman primates as a pragmatic animal model for testing the therapeutic potential of DHEA for age-associate cognitive decline in humans.
PMCID: PMC2829637  PMID: 19711196
Dehydroepiandrosterone; Cognitive decline; Intracrinology; Neurosteroidogenesis
25.  Eight Common Genetic Variants Associated with Serum DHEAS Levels Suggest a Key Role in Ageing Mechanisms 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(4):e1002025.
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS) is the most abundant circulating steroid secreted by adrenal glands—yet its function is unknown. Its serum concentration declines significantly with increasing age, which has led to speculation that a relative DHEAS deficiency may contribute to the development of common age-related diseases or diminished longevity. We conducted a meta-analysis of genome-wide association data with 14,846 individuals and identified eight independent common SNPs associated with serum DHEAS concentrations. Genes at or near the identified loci include ZKSCAN5 (rs11761528; p = 3.15×10−36), SULT2A1 (rs2637125; p = 2.61×10−19), ARPC1A (rs740160; p = 1.56×10−16), TRIM4 (rs17277546; p = 4.50×10−11), BMF (rs7181230; p = 5.44×10−11), HHEX (rs2497306; p = 4.64×10−9), BCL2L11 (rs6738028; p = 1.72×10−8), and CYP2C9 (rs2185570; p = 2.29×10−8). These genes are associated with type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, actin filament assembly, drug and xenobiotic metabolism, and zinc finger proteins. Several SNPs were associated with changes in gene expression levels, and the related genes are connected to biological pathways linking DHEAS with ageing. This study provides much needed insight into the function of DHEAS.
Author Summary
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), mainly secreted by the adrenal gland, is the most abundant circulating steroid in humans. It shows a significant physiological decline after the age of 25 and diminishes about 95% by the age of 85 years, which has led to speculation that a relative DHEAS deficiency may contribute to the development of common age-related diseases or diminished longevity. Twin- and family-based studies have shown that there is a substantial genetic effect with heritability estimate of 60%, but no specific genes regulating serum DHEAS concentration have been identified to date. Here we take advantage of recent technical and methodological advances to examine the effects of common genetic variants on serum DHEAS concentrations. By examining 14,846 Caucasian individuals, we show that eight common genetic variants are associated with serum DHEAS concentrations. Genes at or near these genetic variants include BCL2L11, ARPC1A, ZKSCAN5, TRIM4, HHEX, CYP2C9, BMF, and SULT2A1. These genes have various associations with steroid hormone metabolism—co-morbidities of ageing including type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, actin filament assembly, drug and xenobiotic metabolism, and zinc finger proteins—suggesting a wider functional role for DHEAS than previously thought.
PMCID: PMC3077384  PMID: 21533175

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