Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) released by adrenal glands may be converted to androgens and estrogens mainly in the gonadal, adipose, mammary, hepatic and nervous tissue. DHEA is also a key neurosteroid and has antiglucocorticoid activity. DHEA has been used for the treatment of a number of diseases, including obesity; its pharmacological effects depend on large oral doses, which effect rapidly wanes in part because of its short half-life in plasma. Since steroid hormone esters circulate for longer periods, we have studied here whether the administration of DHEA oleoyl ester may extend its pharmacologic availability by keeping high circulating levels.
Tritium-labelled oleoyl-DHEA was given to Wistar male and female rats by gastric tube. The kinetics of appearance of the label in plasma was unrelated to sex; the pattern being largely coincident with the levels of DHEA-sulfate only in females, and after 2 h undistinguishable from the results obtained using labelled DHEA gavages; in the short term, practically no lipophilic DHEA label was found in plasma. After 24 h only a small fraction of the label remained in the rat organs, with a different sex-related distribution pattern coincident for oleoyl- and free- DHEA gavages. The rapid conversion of oleoyl-DHEA into circulating DHEA-sulfate was investigated using stomach, liver and intestine homogenates; which hydrolysed oleoyl-DHEA optimally near pH 8. Duodenum and ileum contained the highest esterase activities. Pure hog pancreas cholesterol-esterase broke down oleoyl-DHEA at rates similar to those of oleoyl-cholesterol. The intestinal and liver esterases were differently activated by taurocholate and showed different pH-activity patterns than cholesterol esterase, suggesting that oleoyl-DHEA can be hydrolysed by a number of esterases in the lumen (e.g. cholesterol-esterase), in the intestinal wall and the liver.
The esterase activities found may condition the pharmacological availability (and depot effect) of orally administered steroid hormone fatty acid esters such as oleoyl-DHEA. The oral administration of oleoyl-DHEA in order to extend DHEA plasma availability has not been proved effective, since the ester is rapidly hydrolysed, probably in the intestine itself, and mainly converted to DHEA-sulfate at least in females.