Dihydrotestosterone synthesis bypasses testosterone to drive castration-resistant prostate cancer

Kai Hsiung Chang, Rui Li, Mahboubeh Papari-Zareei, Lori Watumull, Yan Daniel Zhao, Richard J. Auchus, Nima Sharifi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

273 Scopus citations


In the majority of cases, advanced prostate cancer responds initially to androgen deprivation therapy by depletion of gonadal testosterone. The response is usually transient, and metastatic tumors almost invariably eventually progress as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). The development of CRPC is dependent upon the intratumoral generation of the potent androgen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), from adrenal precursor steroids. Progression to CRPC is accompanied by increased expression of steroid-5α-reductase isoenzyme-1 (SRD5A1) over SRD5A2, which is otherwise the dominant isoenzyme expressed in the prostate. DHT synthesis in CRPC is widely assumed to require 5α-reduction of testosterone as the obligate precursor, and the increased expression of SRD5A1 is thought to reflect its role in converting testosterone to DHT. Here, we show that the dominant route of DHT synthesis in CRPC bypasses testosterone, and instead requires 5α-reduction of androstenedione by SRD5A1 to 5α-androstanedione, which is then converted to DHT. This alternative pathway is operational and dominant in both human CRPC cell lines and fresh tissue obtained from human tumor metastases. Moreover, CRPC growth in mouse xenograft models is dependent upon this pathway, as well as expression of SRD5A1. These findings reframe the fundamental metabolic pathway that drives CRPC progression, and shed light on the development of new therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13728-13733
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 16 2011


  • 5-alpha-androstanedione
  • Abiraterone acetate
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Hormone resistance
  • Tumor metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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