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Most biologically active oxysterols have a 3β-hydroxy-5-ene function in the ring system with an additional site of oxidation at C-7 or on the side-chain. In blood plasma oxysterols with a 7α-hydroxy group are also observed with the alternative 3-oxo-4-ene function in the ring system formed by ubiquitously expressed 3β-hydroxy-Δ5-C27-steroid oxidoreductase Δ5-isomerase, HSD3B7. However, oxysterols without a 7α-hydroxy group are not substrates for HSD3B7 and are not usually observed with the 3-oxo-4-ene function. Here we report the unexpected identification of oxysterols in plasma derived from umbilical cord blood and blood from pregnant women taken before delivery at 37+ weeks of gestation, of side-chain oxysterols with a 3-oxo-4-ene function but no 7α-hydroxy group. These 3-oxo-4-ene oxysterols were also identified in placenta, leading to the hypothesis that they may be formed by a previously unrecognized 3β-hydroxy-Δ5-C27-steroid oxidoreductase Δ5-isomerase activity of HSD3B1, an enzyme which is highly expressed in placenta. Proof-of-principle experiments confirmed that HSD3B1 has this activity. We speculate that HSD3B1 in placenta is the source of the unexpected 3-oxo-4-ene oxysterols in cord and pregnant women's plasma and may have a role in controlling the abundance of biologically active oxysterols delivered to the fetus.

Original publication




Journal article


Open biol

Publication Date





HSD3B1, bile acid, mass spectrometry, oxysterol, placenta, pregnancy, Humans, Female, Pregnancy, Oxysterols, Steroids, Isomerases, Placenta, Multienzyme Complexes