IUPAC-recommended ring-lettering (left) and atom-numbering (right) of cholestane, a prototypical steroid skeleton.[1] The four rings A-D form the gonane nucleus of the steroid.
Stick model of the steroid lanosterol. The total number of carbons (30) reflects its triterpenoid origin.

A steroid is a type of organic compound that contains a characteristic arrangement of four cycloalkane rings that are joined to each other. Examples of steroids include the dietary fat cholesterol, the sex hormones estradiol and testosterone, and the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone. The core of steroids is composed of twenty carbon atoms bonded together that take the form of four fused rings: three cyclohexane rings (designated as rings A, B, and C in the figure to the right) and one cyclopentane ring (the D ring). The steroids vary by the functional groups attached to this four ring core and by the oxidation state of the rings. Sterols are special forms of steroids, with a hydroxyl group at position-3 and a skeleton derived from cholestane.[1]

Hundreds of distinct steroids are found in plants, animals, and fungi. All steroids are made in cells either from the sterols lanosterol (animals and fungi) or from cycloartenol (plants). Both lanosterol and cycloartenol are derived from the cyclization of the triterpene squalene.[2]



Steroids are a class of organic compounds with a chemical structure that contains the core of gonane or a skeleton derived therefrom. Usually, methyl groups are present at the carbons C-10 and C-13. At carbon C-17 an alkyl side chain may also be present.

The basic skeleton of a steroid, with standard stereo orientations. R is a side-chain.
Cholestane, a typical steroid
Numbering of carbon atoms in gonane

Gonane is the simplest possible steroid and is composed of seventeen carbon atoms, bonded together to form four fused rings. The three cyclohexane rings (designated as rings A, B, and C in the figure above right) form the skeleton of phenanthrene; ring D has a cyclopentane structure. Hence, together they are called cyclopentaphenanthrene.[3]

Commonly, steroids have a methyl group at the carbons C-10 and C-13 and an alkyl side chain at carbon C-17. Further, they vary by the configuration of the side chain, the number of additional methyl groups and the functional groups attached to the rings. For example the hydroxyl group at position C-3 in sterols.



Some of the common categories of 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:

Class Examples Number of carbon atoms
Cholestanes cholesterol 27
Cholanes cholic acid 24
Pregnanes progesterone 21
Androstanes testosterone 19
Estranes estradiol 18

Gonane (or steroid nucleus) is the parent (17-carbon tetracyclic) hydrocarbon molecule without any alkyl sidechains.[4]


Simplified version of latter part of steroid synthesis pathway, where the intermediates isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) form geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP), squalene and, finally, lanosterol, the first steroid in the pathways. Some intermediates are omitted for clarity.

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.

In humans and other animals, the biosynthesis of steroids follows the mevalonate pathway that uses acetyl-CoA as building-blocks to form dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) and isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP).[5] In subsequent steps, DMAPP and IPP are joined to form geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP), which in turn is used to synthesize the steroid lanosterol. Further modifications of lanosterol into other steroids are classified steroidogenesis transformations.

Mevalonate pathway

The mevalonate pathway or HMG-CoA reductase pathway starts with and ends with dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) and isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP).


A number of drugs target the mevalonate pathway:

DMAPP to lanosterol

Isopentenyl pyrophosphate and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate donate isoprene units, which are assembled and modified to form terpenes and isoprenoids,[6] which are a large class of lipids that include the carotenoids, and form the largest class of plant natural products.[7]

Here, the isoprene units are joined together to make squalene and then folded up and formed into a set of rings to make lanosterol.[8] Lanosterol can then be converted into other steroids such as cholesterol and ergosterol.[8][9]

Human Steroidogenesis


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, but the pathways of human steroidogenesis are shown in the figure.

Products of steroidogenesis include:

Steroids include estrogen, cortisol, progesterone, and testosterone. Estrogen and progesterone are made primarily in the ovary and in the placenta during pregnancy, and testosterone in the testes. Testosterone is also converted into estrogen to regulate the supply of each, in the bodies of both females and males. Certain neurons and glia in the central nervous system (CNS) express the enzymes that are required for the local synthesis of pregnane neurosteroids, either de novo or from peripherally-derived sources. The rate-limiting step of steroid synthesis is the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone, which occurs inside the mitochondrion.[10]


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 LDL receptor. Regulation of this pathway is also achieved by controlling the rate of translation of the mRNA, degradation of reductase and phosphorylation.

Alternative pathways

In plants and bacteria, the non-mevalonate pathway uses pyruvate and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate as substrates.[11][6]


Steroids are oxidized mainly by cytochrome P450 oxidase enzymes, such as CYP3A4. These reactions introduce oxygen into the steroid ring and allows the structure to be broken up by other enzymes, to form bile acids as final products.[12] These bile acids can then be eliminated through secretion from the liver in the bile.[13] The expression of this oxidase gene can be upregulated by the steroid sensor PXR when there is a high blood concentration of steroids.[14]


Medical use


See also


  1. ^ a b G. P. Moss (1989). "Nomenclature of Steroids (Recommendations 1989)". Pure & Appl. Chem. 61 (10): 1783–1822. doi:10.1351/pac198961101783.  PDF "IUPAC-IUB Joint Commission on Biochemical Nomenclature (JCBN). The nomenclature of steroids. Recommendations 1989". Eur. J. Biochem. 186 (3): 429–58. December 1989. doi:10.1111/j.1432-1033.1989.tb15228.x. PMID 2606099. 
  2. ^ "Lanosterol biosynthesis". Recommendations on Biochemical & Organic Nomenclature, Symbols & Terminology. International Union Of Biochemistry And Molecular Biology. 
  3. ^ PubChem 130801; 219-08-9 cyclopentaphenanthrene
  4. ^ Edgren RA, Stanczyk FZ (December 1999). "Nomenclature of the gonane progestins". Contraception 60 (6): 313. doi:10.1016/S0010-7824(99)00101-8. PMID 10715364. 
  5. ^ Grochowski L, Xu H, White R (2006). "Methanocaldococcus jannaschii uses a modified mevalonate pathway for biosynthesis of isopentenyl diphosphate". J Bacteriol 188 (9): 3192–8. doi:10.1128/JB.188.9.3192-3198.2006. PMC 1447442. PMID 16621811. 
  6. ^ a b Kuzuyama T, Seto H (2003). "Diversity of the biosynthesis of the isoprene units". Nat Prod Rep 20 (2): 171–83. doi:10.1039/b109860h. PMID 12735695. 
  7. ^ Dubey V, Bhalla R, Luthra R (2003). "An overview of the non-mevalonate pathway for terpenoid biosynthesis in plants". J Biosci 28 (5): 637–46. doi:10.1007/BF02703339. PMID 14517367. 
  8. ^ a b Schroepfer G (1981). "Sterol biosynthesis". Annu Rev Biochem 50: 585–621. doi:10.1146/ PMID 7023367. 
  9. ^ Lees N, Skaggs B, Kirsch D, Bard M (1995). "Cloning of the late genes in the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway of Saccharomyces cerevisiae—a review". Lipids 30 (3): 221–6. doi:10.1007/BF02537824. PMID 7791529. 
  10. ^ Rossier MF (2006). "T channels and steroid biosynthesis: in search of a link with mitochondria". Cell Calcium. 40 (2): 155–64. doi:10.1016/j.ceca.2006.04.020. PMID 16759697. 
  11. ^ Lichtenthaler H (1999). "The 1-Dideoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate pathway of isoprenoid biosynthesis in plants". Annu Rev Plant Physiol Plant Mol Biol 50: 47–65. doi:10.1146/annurev.arplant.50.1.47. PMID 15012203. 
  12. ^ Pikuleva IA (2006). "Cytochrome P450s and cholesterol homeostasis". Pharmacol. Ther. 112 (3): 761–73. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2006.05.014. PMID 16872679. 
  13. ^ Zollner G, Marschall HU, Wagner M, Trauner M (2006). "Role of nuclear receptors in the adaptive response to bile acids and cholestasis: pathogenetic and therapeutic considerations". Mol. Pharm. 3 (3): 231–51. doi:10.1021/mp060010s. PMID 16749856. 
  14. ^ Kliewer S, Goodwin B, Willson T (2002). "The nuclear pregnane X receptor: a key regulator of xenobiotic metabolism". Endocr. Rev. 23 (5): 687–702. doi:10.1210/er.2001-0038. PMID 12372848. 

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  • steroid — STEROÍD, steroizi, s.m. (biochim.) Substanţă organică naturală prezentă în mulţi hormoni şi în acizi biliari, cu rol biologic important. [pr.: ro id] – Din fr. stéroïde. Trimis de claudia, 13.09.2007. Sursa: DEX 98  steroíd s. m. (sil. ro id),… …   Dicționar Român

  • steroid — ► NOUN 1) any of a large class of organic compounds that includes certain hormones and vitamins, with a molecule containing four rings of carbon atoms. 2) an anabolic steroid. DERIVATIVES steroidal adjective. ORIGIN from STEROL(Cf. ↑sterol) …   English terms dictionary

  • steroid — [stir′oid΄, ster′oid΄] n. [< STEROL + OID] any of a group of compounds including the sterols, bile acids, and sex hormones, characteristically having the carbon atom ring structure of the sterols; specif., an ANABOLIC STEROID steroidal adj …   English World dictionary

  • steroid — (n.) naturally occuring substance based on the carbon skeleton of sterol molecules, 1936, from sterol (1913; abstracted from CHOLESTEROL (Cf. cholesterol)) + oid, from Gk. oeides like, from eidos form, shape (see OID (Cf. oid)). Related: Steroids …   Etymology dictionary

  • steroid — /stear oyd, ster /, Biochem. n. 1. any of a large group of fat soluble organic compounds, as the sterols, bile acids, and sex hormones, most of which have specific physiological action. adj. 2. Also, steroidal /sti royd l, ste /. pertaining to or …   Universalium

  • steroid — cor·ti·co·steroid; ke·to·steroid; steroid; ad·re·no·cor·ti·co·steroid; …   English syllables

  • Steroid — A large group of chemical substances related in structure to one another and each containing the same chemical skeleton (a tetracyclic cyclopenta[a]phenanthrene skeleton). Many hormones, body constituents, and drugs are steroids. Examples: drugs… …   Medical dictionary

  • Steroid — Die Struktur der Steroide. Steroide (griechisches Adjektiv στερ[ιν]οειδή, von στερεό, stereó: „das Feste, Starre, Solide“ (abgeleitet vom Namen des ersten bekannten Steroids, dem Cholesterin) und der Endung oeides „ähnlich“) sind eine Stoffklasse …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • steroid — noun Steroid is used before these nouns: ↑cream Steroid is used after these nouns: ↑designer …   Collocations dictionary

  • steroid — UK [ˈstɪərɔɪd] / UK [ˈsterɔɪd] / US [ˈsteˌrɔɪd] / US [ˈstɪˌrɔɪd] noun [countable] Word forms steroid : singular steroid plural steroids biology a chemical that is produced in the body or made as a drug. Steroids can act as hormones or be used for …   English dictionary