J Neurochem 2002 Nov;83(3):713-26
Department of Clinical Biochemistry, University of Bonn, Sigmund-Freud-Strasse 25, D-53105 Bonn, Germany.
Dehydroepiandrosterone and its sulphate are important factors for vitality, development and functions of the CNS. They were found to be subjects to a series of enzyme-mediated conversions within the rodent CNS. In the present study, we were able to demonstrate for the first time that membrane-associated dehydroepiandrosterone 7alpha-hydroxylase activity occurs within the human brain. The cytochrome P450 enzyme demonstrated a sharp pH optimum between 7.5 and 8.0 and a mean KM value of 5.4 micro m, corresponding with the presence of the oxysterol 7alpha-hydroxylase CYP7B1. Real-time RT-PCR analysis verified high levels of CYP7B1 mRNA expression in the human CNS. The additionally observed conversion of dehydroepiandrosterone via cytosolic 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity could be ascribed to the activity of an enzyme with a broad pH optimum and an undetectably high KM value. Subsequent experiments with cerebral neocortex and subcortical white matter specimens revealed that 7alpha-hydroxylase activity is significantly higher in the cerebral neocortex than in the subcortical white matter (p < 0.0005), whereas in the subcortical white matter, 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity is significantly higher than in the cerebral neocortex (p < 0.0005). No sex differences were observed. In conclusion, the high levels of CYP7B1 mRNA in brain tissue as well as in a variety of other tissues in combination with the ubiquitous presence of 7alpha-hydroxylase activity in the human temporal lobe led us to assume a neuroprotective function of the enzyme such as regulation of the immune response or counteracting the deleterious effects of neurotoxic glucocorticoids, rather than a distinct brain specific function such as neurostimulation or neuromodulation.