In addition to their well-established role in detoxication, glutathione transferases (GSTs) have other biological functions. We are focusing on the ketosteroid isomerase activity, which appears to contribute to steroid hormone biosynthesis in mammalian tissues. A highly efficient GST A3-3 is present in some, but not all, mammals. The alpha class enzyme GST A3-3 in humans and the horse shows the highest catalytic efficiency with kcat/Km values of approximately 107M1s1, ranking close to the most active enzymes known. The expression of GST A3-3 in steroidogenic tissues suggests that the enzyme has evolved to support the activity of 3-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the formation of 5-androsten-3,17-dione and 5-pregnen-3,20-dione that are substrates for the double-bond isomerization catalyzed by GST A3-3. The dehydrogenase also catalyzes the isomerization, but its kcat of approximately 1s1 is 200-fold lower than the kcat values of human and equine GST A3-3. Inhibition of GST A3-3 in progesterone-producing human cells suppress the formation of the hormone. Glutathione serves as a coenzyme contributing a thiolate as a base in the isomerase mechanism, which also involves the active-site Tyr9 and Arg15. These conserved residues are necessary but not sufficient for the ketosteroid isomerase activity. A proper assortment of H-site residues is crucial to efficient catalysis by forming the cavity binding the hydrophobic substrate. It remains to elucidate why some mammals, such as rats and mice, lack GSTs with the prominent ketosteroid isomerase activity found in certain other species. Remarkably, the fruit fly
Drosophila melanogaster, expresses a GSTE14 with notable steroid isomerase activity, even though Ser14 has evolved as the active-site residue corresponding to Tyr9 in the mammalian alpha class.