Human skin is a steroidogenic tissue: Steroidogenic enzymes and cofactors are expressed in epidermis, normal sebocytes, and an immortalized sebocyte cell line (SEB-1)

Diane Thiboutot, Sami Jabara, Jan M. McAllister, Aruntha Sivarajah, Kathyrn Gilliland, Zhaoyuan Cong, Gary Clawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


Although the human sebaceous gland can synthesize cholesterol from acetate and can further metabolize steroids such as dehydroepiandrosterone into potent androgens, the de novo production of steroids from cholesterol has not been demonstrated in human skin. The goal of this study was to delineate the steroidogenic pathway upstream from dehydroepiandrosterone by documenting the presence of members of the P450 side chain cleavage system (P450scc). This system catalyzes the initial step in steroid hormone synthesis following translocation of cholesterol to the inner mitochondrial membrane. In concert with its cofactors, adrenodoxin and adrenodoxin reductase, and the transcription factor steroidogenic factor 1, P450scc converts cholesterol to pregnenolone. An SV40 immortalized human sebaceous gland cell line (SEB-1) was established in order to facilitate investigation of the P450scc system. The sebaceous phenotype of SEB-1 sebocytes was confirmed using immunohistochemistry, Oil Red O staining, and gene array expression analysis. Presence of P450scc, adrenodoxin reductase, cytochrome P450 17-hydroxylase (P450c17), and steroidogenic factor 1 was documented in human facial skin, human sebocytes, and SEB-1 sebocytes. Using immunohistochemistry, antibodies to the above proteins localized to epidermis, hair follicles, sebaceous ducts, and sebaceous glands in sections of facial skin. Results of immunohistochemistry were confirmed with Western blotting. Biochemical activity of cytochrome P450scc and P450c17 was demonstrated in SEB-1 sebocytes using radioimmunoassay. The relative abundance of mRNA for P450scc, P450c17, and steroidogenic factor 1 in SEB-1 sebocytes and sebaceous glands was compared to mRNA levels in ovarian theca and granulosa cells using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Gene array expression analysis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction indicated that mRNA for P450scc is more abundant than mRNA for both P450c17 and steroidogenic factor 1 in sebaceous glands and SEB-1 cells. These data demonstrate that the skin is in fact a steroidogenic tissue. The clinical significance of this finding in mediating androgenic skin disorders such as acne, hirsutism, or androgenetic alopecia remains to be established.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)905-914
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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