Metabolism of estrogens and androgens by scleractinian corals. Academic Article uri icon


  • Estrogens and androgens are steroids that act as reproductive hormones in vertebrates. These compounds have also been detected in reef-building corals and other invertebrates, where they are hypothesized to act as bioregulatory molecules. Experiments were conducted using labeled steroid substrates to evaluate metabolism of estrogens and androgens by coral homogenates. GC-MS analysis of 13C-labeled steroids showed that Montipora capitata coral homogenates or fragments could convert estradiol to estrone and testosterone to androstenedione and androstanedione, evidence that M. capitata contains 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and 5alpha-reductase. When homogenates from three coral species and symbiotic dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) were incubated with tritiated steroid substrates, metabolites separated by thin-layer chromatography confirmed that 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity occurred in all species tested. NADP+ was the preferred cofactor in dehydrogenation reactions with coral homogenates. Reduction of estrone and androstenedione occurred at lower rates and aromatization of androgens was not observed. It is unclear whether estrogens detected previously in coral tissues are produced endogenously or sequestered in coral tissue from dietary or environmental sources. Previous studies have demonstrated that corals can take up estrogens from the water column overlying coral reefs. Considered in total, these observations suggest corals could alter the concentration or form of steroids available to reef organisms.

publication date

  • November 2003