Biosynthesis of steroid hormones requires a battery of oxidative enzymes located in both mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. The rate-limiting step in this process is the transport of free cholesterol from the cytoplasm into mitochondria. Within mitochondria, cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone by an enzyme in the inner membrane called CYP11A1. Pregnenolone itself is not a hormone, but is the immediate precursor for the synthesis of all of the steroid hormones. The following table delineates the enzymes required to synthesize the major classes of steroid hormones.
Steroid hormones are involved in cell growth, development, and differentiation. The hormonal signal is mediated by nuclear receptors which represent a specific class of transcription factors. During the last few years, the cloning of all the major steroid hormone receptors increased our insight into how the hormonal signal converts the receptor into a transcriptional activator. Good progress has been made towards understanding the mechanism of steroid hormone action. In this review we will discuss the role of heat shock proteins in the process of transcriptional activation, the mechanistic differences between the hormone (agonist) and the antihormone (antagonist), the resulting functional consequences, and a possible mode by which transcriptional activation is mediated. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Melatonin receptors are found in the SCN and the pituitary gland of the brain, as well as in the ovaries , blood vessels , and intestinal tract . There is a high concentration of receptors in the SCN because this is where melatonin mediates the majority of its affects on circadian rhythm. The binding of melatonin to its receptors on the pituitary gland and the ovaries appears to play a role in regulating the release of reproductive hormones in females. For example, the timing, length, and frequency of menstrual cycles in women are influenced by melatonin. In addition, in certain mammals (other than humans), such as horses and sheep, melatonin acts as a breeding and mating cue, since it is produced in greater amounts in response to the longer nights of winter and less so during summer. Animals who time their mating or breeding to coincide with favourable seasons (such as spring) may depend on melatonin production as a kind of biological clock that regulates their reproductive cycles on the basis of the length of the solar day.