noun, plural: dehydroepiandrosterones
A steroid derived from cholesterol, produced and secreted by the adrenal cortex, the gonads, and other tissues, and serves as the primary precursor of natural sex steroids (androgens and estrogens)
Androgen is one of the major classes of sex steroids (or sex hormones) of vertebrates, including humans. Androgens include androstenediol (A5), androstenedione (A4), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androsterone, and testosterone.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a sex steroid hormone with a chemical formula of C19H28O2. In humans, DHEA is one of the most abundant steroids in the bloodstream. It is biosynthesized chiefly in the adrenal glands and in the gonads. It is also produced in other tissues such as the brain. Nevertheless, it is produced mainly in the adrenal glands, in the cortex in particular. DHEA is synthesized in the zona reticularis as regulated by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In the gonads, DHEA is produced under the control of gonadotropin-releasing hormone.
DHEA synthesized from cholesterol involves the key enzymes: cholesterol side-chain cleavage and 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase and the intermediates: pregnenolone and 17α-hydroxypregnenolone.
DHEA serves as a metabolic intermediate in the natural production of androgens and estrogens. During adrenarche, there is a rise of DHEAs as well as A5s. They are, thus, a key player in the development of the ensuing pubertal changes, e.g. early pubic and axillary hair growth.
Apart from this, DHEA also acts as a neurosteroid (i.e. steroids that alter neuronal excitability by interacting with ligand-gated ion channels and other cell surface receptors). DHEA may also act as a regulator of neurotrophic factor receptors, i.e. a group of growth factor receptors that bind to neurotrophins.
DHEA is also produced synthetically and is marketed as prasterone for improving DHEA levels in DHEA-deficient individuals.