Mechanistic studies on C-19 demethylation in oestrogen biosynthesis
Mechanistic aspects of the biosynthesis of oestrogen have been studied with a microsomal preparation from full-term human placenta. The overall transformation, termed the aromatization process, involves three steps using O2 and NADPH, in which the C-19 methyl group of an androgen is oxidised to formic acid with concomitant production of the aromatic ring of oestrogen: [Formula: see text] To study the mechanism of this process in terms of the involvement of the oxygen atoms, a number of labelled precursors were synthesized. Notable amongst these were 19-hydroxy-4-androstene-3,17-dione (II) and 19-oxo-4-androstene-3,17-dione (IV) in which the C-19 was labelled with H in addition to O. In order to follow the fate of the labelled atoms at C-19 of (II) and (IV) during the aromatization, the formic acid released from C-19 was benzylated and analysed by mass spectrometry. Experimental procedures were devised to minimize the exchange of oxygen atoms in substrates and product with oxygens of the medium. In the conversion of the 19-[O] compounds of types (II) and (IV) into 3-hydroxy-1,3,5-(10)-oestratriene-17-one (V, oestrone), it was found that the formic acid from C-19 retained the original substrate oxygen. When the equivalent O substrates were aromatized under O2, the formic acid from both substrates contained one atom of O. It is argued that in the conversion of the 19-hydroxy compound (II) into the 19-oxo compound (IV), the C-19 oxygen of the former remains intact and that one atom of oxygen from O2 is incorporated into formic acid during the conversion of the 19-oxo compound (IV) into oestrogen. This conclusion was further substantiated by demonstrating that in the aromatization of 4-androstene-3,17-dione (I), both the oxygen atoms in the formic acid originated from molecular oxygen. 10β-Hydroxy-4-oestrene-3,17-dione formate, a possible intermediate in the aromatization, was synthesized and shown not to be converted into oestrogen. In the light of the cumulative evidence available to date, stereochemical aspects of the conversion of the 19-hydroxy compound (II) into the 19-oxo compound (IV), and mechanistic features of the C-10–C-19 bond cleavage step during the conversion of the 19-oxo compound (IV) into oestrogen are discussed.
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