Steroid production and metabolism by early conceptuses are very important for the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy in horses. Our earlier work suggested the possible formation of 5alpha-reduced steroids in equine conceptuses. We have now demonstrated the formation of 5alpha-reduced metabolites of androstenedione, testosterone, and progesterone by the embryo and its membranes. A total of 44 conceptuses were collected from 26 mares between 20 and 31 days of pregnancy. Tissues from the embryo proper and from the separated components of the conceptus (bilaminar and trilaminar trophoblast, allantois) were incubated with tritium-labeled substrates. 5Alpha-reduced metabolites (5alpha-dihydro- and 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydro- steroids) as radiolabeled products were identified from a series of chromatographic steps using four solvent systems for high-performance liquid chromatography. Use of a 5alpha-reductase inhibitor confirmed the metabolites were indeed 5alpha-reduced steroids. For the embryo, the only products from androstenedione were 5alpha-dihydroandrostenedione and 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydroandrostenedione, with no evidence of more polar metabolites; there was some 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydrotestosterone but no 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone from testosterone, and formation of androstenedione was followed by the production of 5alpha-dihydroandrostenedione and 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydroandrostenedione. The major 5alpha-reduced product from progesterone was 3beta,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone, with lesser amounts of 5alpha-dihydroprogesterone. For the membranes, reductions to tetrahydro, 5alpha-reduced steroids were prominent in most instances, but also present were considerable amounts of products more polar than the substrates. The well-recognized activity of some 5alpha-reduced steroids—for example, 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone in male sexual differentiation—provokes interest in their even earlier appearance, as seen in this study, and suggests a possible role for them in early embryonic development in horses and, more generally, in other species.
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Vol. 93 • No. 3