Evidence of the indirect hormonal activity of prohormones using liver S9 metabolic bioactivation and an androgen bioassay

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Prohormones such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are steroid precursors that do not show hormonal activity by themselves. Abuse of these prohormones in cattle fattening is hard to prove because of strong in vivo metabolism and the difficulty to detect metabolites which are not significantly above endogenous levels. The aim of the present work was to develop an in vitro assay capable of detecting the indirect hormonal activity of prohormones that might be present in feed supplements and injection preparations. Sample extracts were incubated with a bovine liver S9 fraction in order to mimic the in vivo metabolic activation. Subsequently incubated extracts were exposed to a highly androgen-specific yeast bioassay to detect hormonal activity. Metabolic activation of DHEA, 4-androstene-3,17-dione (4-adione) and 5-androstene-3,17-diol (5-adiol) resulted in an increased androgenic activity caused by the formation of the active androgen 17ß-testosterone (17ß-T), as shown by ultra-performance liquid chromatography and time-of-flight mass spectrometry with accurate mass measurement. The developed in vitro system successfully mimics the hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (HSD)- and cytochrome P450-mediated in vivo metabolic transitions, thus allowing assessment of both bioactivity and chemical identification without the use of animal experiments. Screening of unknown supplement samples claimed to contain DHEA resulted in successful bioactivation and positive screening results according to the androgen yeast biosensor
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-425
JournalAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • yeast estrogen bioassay
  • in-vitro
  • dehydroepiandrosterone
  • receptor
  • assay

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