Document Type




Format of Original

6 p.

Publication Date



National Academy of Sciences

Source Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519376113, PubMed Central: PMC4703009


Significance: The human enzyme cytochrome P450 17A1 (CYP17A1) catalyzes the critical step in the biosynthesis of the male sex hormones, and, as such, it is a key target for the inhibition of testosterone production that is necessary for the progression of certain cancers. CYP17A1 catalyzes two distinct types of chemical transformations. The first is the hydroxylation of the steroid precursors pregnenolone and progesterone. The second is a different reaction involving carbon–carbon (C-C) bond cleavage, the mechanism of which has been actively debated in the literature. Using a combination of chemical and biophysical methods, we have been able to trap and characterize the active intermediate in this C-C lyase reaction, an important step in the potential design of mechanism-based inhibitors for the treatment of prostate cancers.

Abstract: Ablation of androgen production through surgery is one strategy against prostate cancer, with the current focus placed on pharmaceutical intervention to restrict androgen synthesis selectively, an endeavor that could benefit from the enhanced understanding of enzymatic mechanisms that derives from characterization of key reaction intermediates. The multifunctional cytochrome P450 17A1 (CYP17A1) first catalyzes the typical hydroxylation of its primary substrate, pregnenolone (PREG) and then also orchestrates a remarkable C17–C20 bond cleavage (lyase) reaction, converting the 17-hydroxypregnenolone initial product to dehydroepiandrosterone, a process representing the first committed step in the biosynthesis of androgens. Now, we report the capture and structural characterization of intermediates produced during this lyase step: an initial peroxo-anion intermediate, poised for nucleophilic attack on the C20 position by a substrate-associated H-bond, and the crucial ferric peroxo-hemiacetal intermediate that precedes carbon–carbon (C-C) bond cleavage. These studies provide a rare glimpse at the actual structural determinants of a chemical transformation that carries profound physiological consequences.


Accepted version. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol 112, No. 52 (December 2015): 15856-15861. DOI. © 2015 National Academy of Sciences. Used with permission.

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