The identification of a bacterium related to the retroconversion of sex steroids might lead to treatments for hormonal problems such as baldness and menopause, a team of researchers said yesterday.
Steroids turn androgens into sex hormones such as estrogens, a process that was once thought to be irreversible, but apparently can be turned back by specific anaerobes, Academia Sinica Biodiversity Research Center deputy director Chiang Yin-ru (江殷儒) told a news conference in Taipei.
The team has found an anaerobic bacterial strain — Denitratisoma sp. strain DHT3 — that can reverse the process, turning estrogen back into androgen via a process mediated by vitamin B12, or cobalamin, he said, adding that the strain was found in silt at a sewage treatment plant in Taipei.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
Through genome sequencing and protein experiments, the team found that the retroconversion of estrogen into androgen is related to bacteria containing a specific enzyme (methyltransferase) with a gene named emtA, whose operation and expression involve vitamin B12 and estrogen, he said.
As emtA also exists in the anaerobic environment of the human gut, the retroconversion of estrogen might also happen in humans, he added.
Studies have suggested — without knowing the bacterial players or mechanism involved — that gut microbiota could affect a host’s sex steroid profile, he said, adding that the team’s study sheds new light on the subject.
Specific hormones regulate the development and maintenance of male and female characteristics, and the team’s research signals potential new treatments for menopause, baldness and prostate cancers through probiotics, Chiang said.
The team is attempting to isolate and characterize the hormone-
transforming anaerobes to develop such probiotics, Chiang said, adding that he is collaborating with Chang Gung Memorial Hospital on experiments.
The team’s study, “Retroconversion of estrogens into androgens by bacteria via a cobalamin-mediated methylation,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 21.
The lead author, Wang Po-hsiang (王柏翔), worked with Chiang at the research center and is now working at Japan’s Tokyo Institute of Technology.
National Taiwan University fisheries science professor Lee Tzong-huei (李宗徽) also contributed to the study.
The journal published a commentary on the team’s article, titled “Anaerobic bacteria need their vitamin B12 to digest estrogen,” a week later.
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