Evaluation of androgenic activity of nutraceutical-derived steroids using mammalian and yeast in vitro androgen bioassays

Omar N. Akram, Christina Bursill, Reena Desai, Alison K. Heather, Rymantas Kazlauskas, David J. Handelsman, Gilles Lambert

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Androgenic steroids marketed online as nutraceuticals are a growing concern in sport doping. The inability of conventional mass spectrometry (MS)-based techniques to detect structurally novel androgens has led to the development of in vitro androgen bioassays to identify such designer androgens by their bioactivity. The objective of this study was to determine the androgenic bioactivity of novel steroidal compounds isolated from nutraceuticals using both yeast and mammalian cell-based androgen bioassays. We developed two new in vitro androgen bioassays by stably transfecting HEK293 and HuH7 cells with the human androgen receptor (hAR) expression plasmid together with a novel reporter gene vector (enhancer/ARE/SEAP). The yeast β-galactosidase androgen bioassay was used for comparison. Our new bioassay featuring the enhancer/ARE/SEAP construct (-S) displayed simpler assay format and higher specificity with lower sensitivity compared with the commonly used mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV)-luciferase. The relative potencies (RP), defined as [EC50] of testosterone/[EC50] of steroid, of nutraceutical extracts in the yeast, HEK293-S, and HuH7-S, were 34, 333, and 80 000 for Hemapolin; 208, 250, and 80 for Furazadrol; 0.38, 10, and 106 for Oxyguno; 2.7, 0.28, and 15 for Trena; and 4.5, 0.1, and 0.4 for Formadrol, respectively. The wide discrepancies in rank RP of these compounds was reconciled into a consistent potency ranking when the cells were treated with meclofenamic acid, a nonselective inhibitor of steroid metabolizing enzymes. These findings indicate that steroids extracted from nutraceuticals can be converted in vitro into more or less potent androgens in mammalian but not in yeast cells. We conclude that the putative androgenic bioactivity of a new compound may depend on the bioassay cellular format and that mammalian cell bioassays may have an added benefit in screening for proandrogens but sacrifice specificity for sensitivity in quantitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2065-2074
Number of pages10
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 15 Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry

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