FIGURE 2. Major Pathways of Steroid Biosynthesis.
The pathways outlined here are common to the adrenals, the gonads and, to some extent, to the fetoplacental unit. The first committed step is the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone, catalysed by the P-450scc enzyme, which is under pituitary hormone control (ACTH or LH depending on the tissue). Cholesterol side-chain removal is blocked specifically by aminoglutethimide , a steroid biosynthesis inhibitor. From pregnenolone, steroid biosynthesis can proceed either through the so-called "delta-5" pathway (17α-hydroxypregnenolone, dehydroepiandrosterone, testosterone), or through the "delta-4" pathway (progesterone onwards). Progesterone is the starting point for mineralocorticoid synthesis, whereas glucocorticoids are derived from its metabolite, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone. Estrogens are formed from androgens (androstenedione and/or testosterone). Most reactions are irreversible (as denoted by a single arrow). Reversible reactions (double arrows) depend on cofactor availability (. the NADP/NADPH ratio). [Abbreviations used here for the various enzymes are listed in the figure].
Cells of the zona fasciculata and zona reticularis lack aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) that converts corticosterone to aldosterone, and thus these tissues produce only the weak mineralocorticoid corticosterone. However, both these zones do contain the CYP17A1 missing in zona glomerulosa and thus produce the major glucocorticoid, cortisol. Zona fasciculata and zona reticularis cells also contain CYP17A1, whose 17,20-lyase activity is responsible for producing the androgens, dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione. Thus, fasciculata and reticularis cells can make corticosteroids and the adrenal androgens, but not aldosterone.