Genetic and structural analyses of cytochrome P450 hydroxylases in sex hormone biosynthesis: Sequential origin and subsequent coevolution. Academic Article uri icon


  • Biosynthesis of steroid hormones in vertebrates involves three cytochrome P450 hydroxylases, CYP11A1, CYP17A1 and CYP19A1, which catalyze sequential steps in steroidogenesis. These enzymes are conserved in the vertebrates, but their origin and existence in other chordate subphyla (Tunicata and Cephalochordata) have not been clearly established. In this study, selected protein sequences of CYP11A1, CYP17A1 and CYP19A1 were compiled and analyzed using multiple sequence alignment and phylogenetic analysis. Our analyses show that cephalochordates have sequences orthologous to vertebrate CYP11A1, CYP17A1 or CYP19A1, and that echinoderms and hemichordates possess CYP11-like but not CYP19 genes. While the cephalochordate sequences have low identity with the vertebrate sequences, reflecting evolutionary distance, the data show apparent origin of CYP11 prior to the evolution of CYP19 and possibly CYP17, thus indicating a sequential origin of these functionally related steroidogenic CYPs. Co-occurrence of the three CYPs in early chordates suggests that the three genes may have coevolved thereafter, and that functional conservation should be reflected in functionally important residues in the proteins. CYP19A1 has the largest number of conserved residues while CYP11A1 sequences are less conserved. Structural analyses of human CYP11A1, CYP17A1 and CYP19A1 show that critical substrate binding site residues are highly conserved in each enzyme family. The results emphasize that the steroidogenic pathways producing glucocorticoids and reproductive steroids are several hundred million years old and that the catalytic structural elements of the enzymes have been conserved over the same period of time. Analysis of these elements may help to identify when precursor functions linked to these enzymes first arose.

publication date

  • January 2016