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Ketoconazole has recently been shown to interfere with steroidogenesis in patients and rat in vitro systems. In this study we attempted to elucidate the site of inhibition in the adrenal gland. Although ketoconazole impaired adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulated cyclic (c)AMP production, dibutyrl cAMP addition did not bypass the steroidogenic blockade indicating that the critical ketoconazole-inhibited step was distal to cAMP. Addition of radiolabeled substrates to isolated adrenal cells and analysis of products by high performance liquid chromatography demonstrated a ketoconazole block between deoxycorticosterone (DOC) and corticosterone. This 11-hydroxylase step is carried out by a P450-dependent mitochondrial enzyme. No restriction of progesterone or pregnenolone conversion to DOC was detected, steps carried out by non-P450-dependent microsomal enzymes. Inhibition of cholesterol conversion to pregnenolone by mitochondrial fractions indicated a second block at the side chain cleavage step, another mitochondrial P450-dependent enzyme. Adrenal malate dehydrogenase, a non-P450-dependent mitochondrial enzyme was not inhibited while renal 24-hydroxylase, a P450-dependent mitochondrial enzyme in another organ, was blocked by ketoconazole. We conclude that ketoconazole may be a general inhibitor of mitochondrial P450 enzymes. This finding suggests that patients receiving ketoconazole be monitored for side effects relevant to P450 enzyme inhibition. Further, we raise the possibility that this drug action may be beneficially exploited in situations where inhibition of steroidogenesis is a therapeutic goal.


D S Loose, P B Kan, M A Hirst, R A Marcus, D Feldman


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