Structure-activity relationships of synthetic progestins in a yeast-based in vitro androgen bioassay.

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Journal Article
J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol, 2008, 110 (1-2), pp. 39 - 47
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The recent identification of tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a non-marketed designer androgen used for sports doping but previously undetectable by established mass spectrometry-based urine drug screens, and its production by a facile chemical modification of gestrinone has raised concerns about the risks of developing designer androgens from numerous marketed progestins. We therefore have used yeast-based in vitro androgen and progesterone bioassays to conduct a structure-activity study assessing the intrinsic androgenic potential of commercially available progestins and their derivatives, to identify those compounds or structures with the highest risk of forming a basis for such misapplication. Progestins had a wide range of androgenic bioactivity that was not reliably predicted for individual steroids by their progestin bioactivity. 17alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone and 19-norprogesterone derivatives with their bulky 17beta-substituents were strong progestins but generally weak androgens. 17alpha-Ethynylated derivatives of testosterone, 19-nortestosterone and 18-methyl-19-nortestosterone such as gestrinone, ethisterone, norethisterone and norgestrel had the most significant intrinsic androgenicity of all the commercially marketed progestins. Facile chemical modification of the 17alpha-ethynyl group of each of these progestins produces 17alpha-methyl, ethyl and allyl derivatives, including THG and norbolethone, which further enhanced androgenic bioactivity. Thus by using the rapid and sensitive yeast bioassay we have screened a comprehensive set of progestins and associated structures and identified the ethynylated testosterone, 19-nortestosterone and 18-methyl-19-nortestosterone derivatives as possessing the highest risk for abuse and potential for conversion to still more potent androgens. By contrast, modern progestins such as progesterone, 17alpha-hydroxyprogesterone and 19-norprogesterone derivatives had minimal androgenic bioactivity and pose low risk.
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