Recently, in situ formation of active sex steroids at the sites of their actions from biologically inactive precursors in the circulation have been demonstrated to play very important roles in sex steroid-dependent neoplasms. These tissues in which the conversion occurs are designated as intracrine tissues and their mechanisms of actions can be designated as intracrinology in contrast to endocrinology. Aromarase, which converts serum androgens to estrone, and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase I, which is involved primarily in the conversion of estrone to estradiol, are two major enzymes which function in the in situ formation of biologically active estrogens from circulatory androgens. In human estrogen-dependent neoplasms, including breast, endometrioid endometrial, and common epithelial ovarian carcinoma, we recently demonstrated overexpression of aromatase, especially in stromal cells at sites of frank invasion possibly under a new promoter usage and that of 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase I in these carcinoma cells. These estrogen-dependent carcinomas are considered to have a common characteristic in estrogen metabolism (i.e., the expression of aromatase in the stromal cells and of 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase I in the epithelial cells). With these in situ mechanisms of generating biologically active estrogens from circulating androgens, that is, 'intracrine manner,' these estrogen- dependent neoplasms can exert estrogenic actions on carcinoma cells despite low circulating serum estrogen levels, as observed in postmenopausal women. Evaluation of intracrine mechanisms can provide new insights into various estrogen-related biological phenomena in humans.
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