Augmented androgen production is a stable steroidogenic phenotype of propagated theca cells from polycystic ovaries

Velen L. Nelson, Richard S. Legro, Jerome F. Strauss, Jan M. McAllister

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410 Scopus citations


To test the hypothesis that the hyperandrogenemia associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) results from an intrinsic abnormality in ovarian theca cell steroidogenesis, we examined steroid hormone production, steroidogenic enzyme activity, and mRNA expression in normal and PCOS theca cells propagated in long-term culture. Progesterone (P4), 17α-hydroxyprogesterone (17OHP4), and testosterone (T) production per cell were markedly increased in PCOS theca cell cultures. Moreover, basal and forskolin-stimulated pregnenolone, P4, and dehydroepiandrosterone metabolism were increased dramatically in PCOS theca cells. PCOS theca cells were capable of substantial metabolism of precursors into T, reflecting expression of an androgenic 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. Forskolin-stimulated cholesterol side chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A) and 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-desmolase (CYP17) expression were augmented in PCOS theca cells compared with normal cells, whereas no differences were found in steroidogenic acute regulatory protein mRNA expression. Collectively, these observations establish that increased CYP11A and CYP17 mRNA expression, as well as increased CYP17, 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase enzyme activity per theca cell, and consequently increased production of P4, 17OHP4, and T, are stable properties of PCOS theca cells. These findings are consistent with the notion that there is an intrinsic alteration in the steroidogenic activity of PCOS thecal cells that encompasses multiple steps in the biosynthetic pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)946-957
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Endocrinology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology


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