★ Cysteinyl conjugates of testosterone metabolites have been reported. ★ These conjugates have been synthesized and structurally characterized. ★ These conjugates were detected in urine after testosterone administration. ★ Similar metabolites were found for progesterone and cortisol. ★ A common metabolic pathway for steroid hormones is proposed.
The occurrence of several polyunsaturated testosterone related compounds (including 4,6-androstadien-3,17-dione and 4,6-androstadien-17β-ol-3-one) in urine after alkaline treatment of the sample has been recently reported. Although several experiments seem to indicate that they are testosterone metabolites, their origin is still unknown. In this study, it is demonstrated that these metabolites are produced from the degradation of cysteine conjugates. Several testosterone metabolites conjugated with cysteine have been synthesized and characterized by NMR techniques. Their detection in human urine has been performed by LC–MS/MS. The acquisition of several transitions in the SRM mode and the comparison between ion ratios and retention times allowed for the unequivocal confirmation of the presence of cysteine conjugates in urine. The analysis of urine samples collected after testosterone administration confirmed that synthesized cysteine conjugates are testosterone metabolites. The fact that these conjugates result in polyunsaturated compounds in urine after alkaline treatment was demonstrated by fraction collection and alkaline treatment of each fraction. Besides, the presence of these metabolites was also confirmed in human plasma. The formation of these metabolites implies an unreported metabolic biotransformation: 6,7-dehydrogenation as phase I metabolism followed by conjugation with glutathione and subsequent transformation to cysteine conjugates. Finally, the existence of similar metabolites for cortisol and progesterone was also confirmed by LC–MS/MS indicating that the presented metabolic pathway is not exclusively active in androgens, but common to progestagens and glucocorticoids.