Functions of dehydroepiandrosterone in relation to breast cancer

Robert T. Chatterton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although DHEA sulfate (DS) is the most abundant steroid in the circulation, breast fluid contains an approximately 80-fold greater concentration than serum. Transport of DS into cells requires organic anion transporting polypeptides (OATPs), which are specific for cell type, cell location, and substrate, but may have a broader specificity for housekeeping functions. Specific classes, which may be modified by soluble factors including neutral steroids, have been identified in the breast. After transport, DS may be cleaved to DHEA by ubiquitous sulfatases, which may be modified by the cell milieu, or DHEA may enter by diffusion. Synthesis from cholesterol does not occur because CYP17B12 and cytochrome b5 are lacking in breast tissues. Case-control studies reveal a positive association of serum DS with risk of breast cancer. The association is even greater with DHEA, particularly in postmenopausal women with HR + invasive tumors. Metabolites of DHEA, androstenedione and testosterone, are associated with breast cancer but DHEA is likely to have an independent role as well. Mechanisms by which DHEA may promote breast cancer relate to its effect in increasing circulating IGF-I, by inhibiting the suppressive effect of glucocorticoids, and by promoting retention of pre-adipocytes with aromatase activity. In addition, DHEA may interact with the G-protein coupled receptor GPER for stimulation of miR-21 and subsequent activation of the MAPK pathway. DHEA also has antitumor properties that relate to stimulation of immunity, suppression of inflammation, and elevation of adipose tissue adiponectin synthesis. The net effect may depend on the which factors predominate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108970
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Androstenedione
  • Bioactivity
  • Breast cancer
  • Cytokines
  • dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • DHEA sulfate
  • IGF-I
  • Immune system
  • organic anion transporting peptides (OATPs)
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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