There are five major classes of steroid hormones: testosterone (androgen), estradiol (estrogen), progesterone (progestin), cortisol/corticosterone (glucocorticoid), and aldosterone (mineralocorticoids). Testosterone and its more potent metabolite dihydrotestosterone (DHT), progesterone and estradiol are classified as sex-steroids, whereas cortisol/corticosterone and aldosterone are collectively referred to as corticosteroids.
Sex steroids are crucial hormones for the proper development and function of the body; they regulate sexual differentiation, the secondary sex characteristics, and sexual behavior patterns.
Sex hormones production is sexually dimorphic, and involves differences not only in hormonal action but also in regulation and temporal patterns of production. Gonadal sex steroids effects are mediated by slow genomic mechanisms through nuclear receptors as well as by fast nongenomic mechanisms through membrane-associated receptors and signaling cascades.
The term sex steroids is nearly always synonymous with sex hormones (Wikipedia). Steroid hormones in mammals regulate diverse physiological functions such as reproduction, mainly by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, blood salt balance, maintenance of secondary sexual characteristics, response to stress, neuronal function and various metabolic processes(fat, muscle, bone mass). The panoply of effects, regulations and interactions of gonadal sex steroids in mammals is in part discussed in this chapter.
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Steroid hormones regulate cellular processes by binding to membrane, intracellular and/or nuclear receptors that, in turn, interact with discrete nucleotide sequences to alter gene expression.
Because most steroid receptors in target cells are located in the cytoplasm, they need to get into the nucleus to alter gene expression. This process typically takes at least 30 to 60 minutes. In contrast, other regulatory actions of steroid hormones are manifested within seconds to a few minutes.
These time periods are far too rapid to be due to changes at the genomic level and are therefore termed nongenomic or rapid actions, to distinguish them from the classical steroid hormone action of regulation of gene expression.
The biological activity of androgens is thought to occur predominantly through binding to intracellular androgen-receptors, a member of the nuclear receptor family, that interact with specific nucleotide sequences to alter gene expression. This genomic-androgen effect typically takes at least half an hour.