Fourth-generation progestins inhibit 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 and modulate the biosynthesis of endogenous steroids

Louw-du Toit, Renate ; Perkins, Meghan S. ; Snoep, Jacky L. ; Storbeck, Karl-Heinz ; Africander, Donita (2016-05)

CITATION: Louw-du Toit, R., et al. 2016. Fourth-generation progestins inhibit 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 and modulate the biosynthesis of endogenous steroids. PLoS ONE, 11(10):1-23, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164170.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Progestins used in contraception and hormone replacement therapy are synthetic compounds designed to mimic the actions of the natural hormone progesterone and are classed into four consecutive generations. The biological actions of progestins are primarily determined by their interactions with steroid receptors, and factors such as metabolism, pharmacokinetics, bioavailability and the regulation of endogenous steroid hormone biosynthesis are often overlooked. Although some studies have investigated the effects of select progestins on a few steroidogenic enzymes, studies comparing the effects of progestins from different generations are lacking. This study therefore explored the putative modulatory effects of progestins on de novo steroid synthesis in the adrenal by comparing the effects of select progestins from the respective generations, on endogenous steroid hormone production by the H295R human adrenocortical carcinoma cell line. Ultra-performance liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry analysis showed that the fourth-generation progestins, nestorone (NES), nomegestrol acetate (NoMAC) and drospirenone (DRSP), unlike the progestins selected from the first three generations, modulate the biosynthesis of several endogenous steroids. Subsequent assays performed in COS-1 cells expressing human 3βHSD2, suggest that these progestins modulate the biosynthesis of steroid hormones by inhibiting the activity of 3βHSD2. The Ki values determined for the inhibition of human 3βHSD2 by NES (9.5 ± 0.96 nM), NoMAC (29 ± 7.1 nM) and DRSP (232 ± 38 nM) were within the reported concentration ranges for the contraceptive use of these progestins in vivo. Taken together, our results suggest that newer, fourth-generation progestins may exert both positive and negative physiological effects via the modulation of endogenous steroid hormone biosynthesis.

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