This article is about a family of polycyclic hydrocarbons. For the performance-enhancing substance, see Anabolic steroid.
5α-dihydroprogesterone (5α-DHP), an example steroid. Shape of the 4 rings of most steroids is illustrated (carbon atoms in black, oxygens in red, hydrogens in grey). Note the apolar "slab" of hydrocarbon at middle (grey, black) and the polar groups at opposing ends (red), common features of many natural steroids. 5α-DHP is an endogenous steroid hormone and a biosynthetic intermediate.
Steroids comprise a group of cyclicalorganic compounds whose basis is a characteristic arrangement of seventeen carbon atoms in a four-ring structure linked together from three 6-carbon rings followed by a 5-carbon ring and an eight-carbon side chain on carbon 17 (illustration on right). These rings are synthesized by biochemical processes from cyclization of a thirty-carbon chain, squalene, into lanosterol or cycloartenol. Hundreds of distinct steroids are found in animals, fungi, plants, and elsewhere and many steroids are necessary to life at all levels. They include cholesterol, the sex hormones estradiol and testosterone,:10–19bile acids, and drugs such as the anti-inflammatory agent dexamethasone.The three cyclohexane rings are designated as rings A, B and C in the figure to the right and the one cyclopentane ring as ring D. Individual steroids vary, first and primarily, by the oxidation state of the carbon atoms in the rings and by the chains and functional groups attached to this four-ring system; second, steroids can vary more markedly via changes to the ring structure (e.g., via ring scissions that produce secosteroids like vitamin D3, see below). Sterols are a particularly important form of steroids, with sterols having a cholestane-derived framework and an hydroxyl group at the C-3 ring position being the most prominent (e.g., as in cholesterol, shown at right).
Cholesterol, a prototypical animal sterol. This structural lipid and key steroid biosynthetic precursor is shown in line-angle representation with its IUPAC-approved ring lettering and atom numbering conventions; the rings of the molecule are projected onto the plane of the page in a horizontal orientation, also IUPAC-specified.:1785f Hydrogens in this representation are implied at every vertex (fulfilling the additional bonds required for carbon, up to its valence of four). Bonds extending above the plane are indicated with bold wedges, and those extending below the plane with cross-hatched wedges. Alternative representations of the extending bonds are as bold and cross-hatched lines, or simple straight lines (where the stereochemical relationships are inferred). Note here and following, wedges/lines that extend and terminate (here from C-10, C-13, and C-20) represent methyl groups, even when a "-CH3" does not appear.
Steroid ring system with branchings. The parent ABCD steroid ring system (hydrocarbon framework) is shown again except with all normally seen branchings, in line-angle representation, with IUPAC-approved ring lettering and atom numbering. At its core is the hydrocarbon composed only of the four ABCD-rings, without branches or methyl substituents; this is the 17-carbon compound gonane, the simplest steroid and a substructure present in most steroids.
Steroid 5α and 5β stereoisomers defined.:1786f Steroids use the α- convention with a number for a ring substituent extending below the plane of the steroid ring system (here, the plane of the page), and β- for a substituent extending above the plane. The difference in these two isomers is in the side of the steroid ring system to which the hydrogen atom at carbon-5 is attached, which results in an altered A-ring conformation; hence, the 5α or 5β specify whether this hydrogen is below or above the steroid ring plane. The isomers are shown in line-angle representation, except in chair-envelope form (rings ABC chairs, ring D envelope); see above regarding IUPAC ring and number labels (blue and red, respectively); the R at carbon-17 represents possible side chains at that position. Only the hydrogen atoms at the tertiary carbons are shown explicitly.
5α-cholestane, a common steroid core. Shown in line-angle representation, this 5α-steroid is a 27 carbon steroid hydrocarbon with an intact ABCD-ring system. Its features include two axial methyl groups attached at C-10 and C-13, and an eight carbon side chain at C-17. This common carbon framework is present in cholesterol and many other steroids, which differ, from example to example, in the specific functional groups attached to the rings and side chain and their chirality, and in bond orders (presence of unsaturation) within the rings (see text).
As IUPAC guidance notes (and is explained more fully following the quote),
"Steroids are compounds possessing the skeleton of cyclopenta[a]phenanthrene or a skeleton derived therefrom by one or more bond scissions or ring expansions or contractions. Methyl groups are normally present at C-10 and C-13. An alkyl side chain may also be present at C-17. Sterols are steroids carrying a hydroxyl group at C-3 and most of the skeleton of cholestane. Additional carbon atoms may be present in the side chain.":1785
Gonane is the simplest possible steroid and is composed of seventeen carbon atoms in carbon-carbon bonds that form four fused rings in a defined three-dimensional shape. The three cyclohexane rings (designated as rings A, B, and C in the figures above form the skeleton of a perhydro- derivative of phenanthrene. The D-ring has a cyclopentane structure; hence, though it is uncommon, per IUPAC steroids can also be named as various hydro-derivatives of cyclopenta[a]phenanthrene. When the two methyl groups and 8 carbon side chain (at C-17, as shown for cholesterol) are present, the steroid is said to have a cholestane framework. The two common 5α and 5β stereoisomeric forms of steroids exist because of differences in the side of the largely planar ring system that the hydrogen (H) atom at carbon-5 is attached, which results in a change in steroid A-ring conformation.
The following are further important examples of steroid structures, in line-angle representation (see cholesterol image above, for explanation):
Progesterone, a steroid hormone involved in the female menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis.
Medrogestone, a synthetic drug with similar effects as progesterone.
β-Sitosterol, a plant or phytosterol, with a fully branched hydrocarbon side chain at C-17, and an hydroxyl group at C-3.
In addition to the ring scissions (cleavages), and expansions and contractions (cleavage and reclosing to a larger or smaller rings) noted in the IUPAC definition—all variations in the carbon-carbon bond framework—steroids can also vary:
For instance, sterols such as cholesterol and lanosterol have an hydroxyl group attached at position C-3, while testosterone and progesterone have a carbonyl (oxo substituent) at C-3; of these examples, lanosterol alone has two methyl groups at C-4, and cholesterol with a C-5 to C-6 double bond differs from testosterone and progesterone, which have a C-4 to C-5 double bond.
Species distribution and function
The following are some of the common categories of steroids. In eukaryotes, steroids are found in the fungi, animals, and plants. Fungal steroids include the ergosterols.
The animal steroids include compounds of vertebrate and insect origin, in the latter case including ecdysteroids such as ecdysterone, which is involved in the control of molting in some species. Vertebrate examples include the steroid hormones and cholesterol, the latter of which is a structural component of cell membranes that is involved in determining the fluidity of cell membranes and is a principal constituent of plaques implicated in atherosclerosis. The steroid hormones include:
the anabolic steroids, natural and synthetic, that interact with androgen receptors to increase muscle and bone synthesis, where in popular expressions, use of the term "steroids" may refer to anabolic steroids.
It is also possible to classify steroids based upon their chemical composition. One example of how MeSH performs this classification is available at the Wikipedia MeSH catalog. Examples from this classification include:
Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), an example of a 9,10-secosteroid. The triene substructure attached to the ring bearing the hydroxyl group is a result of the B-ring scission (cleavage) of the parent steroid framework, giving rise to this secosteroid. (The hydroxyl group is in position C3 of the parent steroid A-ring.)
Cyclopamine, an example of a complex C-nor-D-homosteroid. In this steroid natural product—responsible for cyclopia in lambs whose mothers ingest it in corn lily—the C-12 atom is migrated from the C-ring into the D-ring during the course of biosynthesis; other significant changes take place on the C-17 side chain.
The gonane (or steroid nucleus) is the parent (17-carbon tetracyclic) hydrocarbon molecule without any alkyl sidechains.
Cleaved, contracted, and expanded rings
Secosteroids (L. seco, "to cut") are a subclass of steroidal compounds resulting, biosynthetically or conceptually, via scission (cleavage) of parent steroid rings, generally one of the four. Major secosteroid subclasses are defined by the steroid carbon atoms where this scission has taken place. For instance, the prototypical secosteroid cholecalciferol, vitamin D3 (shown), is in the important 9,10-secosteroid subclass, derived via cleavage between carbon atoms C-9 and C-10 of the steroid B-ring (similarly 5,6-secosteroids, 13,14-steroids, etc.).
Norsteroids (nor-, L. norma, from "normal" in chemistry, indicating carbon removal) and homosteroids (homo-, Gk. homos for same, indicating carbon addition) are two structural subclasses of steroids formed via biosynthetic or bench chemistry steps, in the former case involving enzymic ring expansion/contraction reactions, and in the latter accomplished similarly (biomimetically) or, more often, through ring closures of acyclic precursors with more or fewer ring atoms than in the parent steroid framework. These two classes represent further unique classes of steroids with important biological activities and societal impacts; the effect of these chemical operations on the ring structures is such that recognition of the parent tetracyclic ring system can be challenging.
Combinations of these ring alterations are also possible and are known in nature. For instance, ewes that graze on corn lily ingest cyclopamine (shown) and veratramine, two of a sub-family of steroids where the C- and D-rings are contracted and expanded, respectively, via a biosynthetic migration of the original C-13 atom. Ingestion of these C-nor-D-homosteroids result in birth defects in progeny lambs: cyclopia in the case of cyclopamine and leg deformity with veratramine. A further C-nor-D-homosteroid, nakiterpiosin, is excreted by Okinawancyanobacteriosponges, Terpios hoshinota, leading to coral mortality from black coral disease. Nakiterpiosin-type steroids are active against the smoothened - hedgehog pathway that is hyperactive in various cancers; Merck chemists established that C-13 atom migration could be achieved by "bench chemistry", and thisbiomimetic synthesis allows medicinal chemistry to proceed on this steroidal anticancer hypothesis.
Steroid biosynthesis is an anabolic metabolic pathway that produces steroids from simple precursors. A unique biosynthetic pathway is followed in animals compared to many other organisms, making the pathway a common target for antibiotics and other anti-infective drugs. In addition, steroid metabolism in humans is the target of cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.
The human steroidogenesis, with the major classes of steroid hormones, individual steroids and enzymatic pathways. Note that changes in molecular structure compared to the respective precursor are highlighted with white circles.
Steroidogenesis is the biological process by which steroids are generated from cholesterol and transformed into other steroids. The pathways of steroidogenesis differ between different species – as an example the pathways of human steroidogenesis are shown in this figure below: Following is a list of the major classes of steroid hormones and some prominent members, with examples of major related functions:
Progestogens serve as precursors to all other human steroids – thus all human tissues which produce steroids must first convert cholesterol to pregnenolone. This conversion is the rate-limiting step of steroid synthesis, which occurs inside the mitochondrion of the respective tissue.
Several key enzymes can be activated through DNA transcriptional regulation on activation of SREBP (sterol regulatory element-binding protein-1 and -2). This intracellular sensor detects low cholesterol levels and stimulates endogenous production by the HMG-CoA reductase pathway, as well as increasing lipoprotein uptake by up-regulating the LDLreceptor. Regulation of this pathway is also achieved by controlling the rate of translation of the mRNA, degradation of reductase and phosphorylation.
Steroids are oxidized mainly by cytochrome P450 oxidase enzymes, such as CYP3A4. These reactions introduce oxygen into the steroid ring and allow the structure to be broken up by other enzymes, to form bile acids as final products. These bile acids can then be eliminated through secretion from the liver in the bile. The expression of this oxidase gene can be upregulated by the steroid sensor PXR when there is a high blood concentration of steroids.
Isolation, structure determination, and methods of analysis
This section requires expansion. (May 2014)
The isolation of steroids refers, depending on context, either to the isolation of the considerable quantities of pure chemical matter required for chemical structure elucidation, derivitzation/degradation chemistry, biological testing, and other research needs (generally milligrams to grams, but historically, often more), or to the isolation of "analytical quantities" of the substance of interest, where the focus is on identification and quantitation of the substance (e.g., in biological tissue or fluid), and where the amount isolated depends on the analytical method applied (but is generally always sub-microgram in scale).[page needed] The methods of isolation applied toward achieving these two distinct scales of product are likewise distinct, but generally involve extraction, precipitation, adsorptions, chromatography, and sometimes crystallizations. In both cases, the isolated substance is purified to chemical homogeneity, i.e., specific combined separation and analytical methods such as LC-MS methods are chosen to be "orthogonal"—achieving their separations based on distinct modes of interaction between substance and isolating matrix—with the goal being detection of only a single species present in the purportedly pure sample. The expression structure determination refers to methods that are applied to determine the chemical structure of an isolated, pure steroid, a process that involves an array of chemical and physical methods that have changed markedly over the history of steroid research, but that have included NMR and small molecule crystallography.:10–19Methods of analysis include samplings of both of these prior areas, but especially analytical methods aimed at determining if a steroid is present in an analytical mixture, and determining its quantity in that medium.
Chemical synthesis of steroids
This section requires expansion. (March 2014)
Phytosterols, for instance, mixtures of soybean sterols, can be used as starting materials and converted into two kinds of steroid hormone intermediates through microbial transformation. Microbial catabolism of phytosterol sidechains yields either C-19 steroids, a precursor to most steroid hormones including sex hormones, or C-22 steroids, a precursor to adrenocortical hormones.
Partial and total chemical synthesis
This section requires expansion. (March 2014)
The chemical conversion of sapogenins to steroids—e.g., via the Marker degradation—is a method of partial synthesis that is a long-established alternative to microbial transformation of phytosterols to steroids, and underpinned Syntex efforts using the Mexican barbasco trade (harvesting and marketing large tubers of wild-growing plants, e.g., yams) to produce early synthetic steroids.
A number of Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research involving steroids. These prizes include:
1969 (Chemistry) Derek Barton, Odd Hassel, development of the concept of conformation and its application in chemistry, where a specific important emphasis was on the conformation of the "Steroid Nucleus"
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