Studies of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) with the human estrogen receptor in yeast

Kenneth P. Nephew, Cameron Q. Sheeler, Mark D. Dudley, Sheri Gordon, Susan G. Nayfield, Sohaib A. Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Scopus citations


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a C19 adrenal steroid synthesized in the human adrenal cortex and serving as a biosynthetic precursor to testosterone and 17β-estradiol. Despite the fact that it is one of the most abundant steroid hormones in circulation, the physiological role of DHEA in humans remains unclear. The action of DHEA itself, such as its interactions with receptors and nuclear transcription factors, is not well understood, and a specific DHEA receptor has yet to be identified. Although the activity of DHEA can be due to its metabolism into androgens and estrogens, DHEA has been shown to interact with the androgen receptor and the estrogen receptor (ER) in vitro. We demonstrate in this study that DHEA (3β-Hydroxy-5α -androstan-17-one) inhibits 17β-estradiol (E2) binding to its receptor in vivo in yeast. DHEA stimulates human ER dimerization in yeast, as determined by ER fusion protein interactions, GAL4 reconstitution and subsequent measurement of increased β-galactosidase activity. DHEA causes an increase in estrogen response element-dependent β-galactosidase activity, demonstrating that the ER dimer induced by DHEA is transcriptionally active, but at a concentration of DHEA about 1000 times greater than E2. Inclusion of the nuclear receptor co-activator RIP140 in the yeast enhances ER transactivation by DHEA or E2 in a ligand-dependent manner; moreover, only in the presence of RIP140 is DHEA able to stimulate β-galactosidase activity to levels similar to those achieved by E2. Ligand-receptor interaction for other C19-steroids was also examined. While 5-androstene-3β, 17β-diol (ADIOL) displayed estrogenic activity in this system, 4-androstene-17-dione (androstenedione) and 4-androstene-17β-o1,3-one (testosterone) did not. We have investigated whether DHEA can interact with the human ER in vivo. Our findings demonstrate a mechanism by which DHEA interacts directly with estrogen signaling systems; however, because DHEA is several orders of magnitude less potent than E2 in this system, we conclude that it essentially is not an estrogen agonist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular and Cellular Endocrinology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 25 1998


  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Estradiol
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Hormone
  • Yeast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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