Origin of an ancient hormone/receptor couple revealed by resurrection of an ancestral estrogen

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Science Advances  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601778
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601778


The origin of ancient ligand/receptor couples is often analyzed via reconstruction of ancient receptors and, when ligands are products of metabolic pathways, they are not supposed to evolve. However, because metabolic pathways are inherited by descent with modification, their structure can be compared using cladistic analysis. Using this approach, we studied the evolution of steroid hormones. We show that side-chain cleavage is common to most vertebrate steroids, whereas aromatization was co-opted for estrogen synthesis from a more ancient pathway. The ancestral products of aromatic activity were aromatized steroids with a side chain, which we named “paraestrols.” We synthesized paraestrol A and show that it effectively binds and activates the ancestral steroid receptor. Our study opens the way to comparative studies of biologically active small molecules.

  • estrogens
  • steroid hormones
  • nuclear hormone receptors
  • ligands
  • Evolution
  • metabolic pathways
  • cladistics

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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