Because steroids are lipophilic, they diffuse easily through the cell membranes, and therefore have a very large distribution volume. In their target tissues, steroids are concentrated by an uptake mechanism which relies on their binding to intracellular proteins (or " receptors ", see below). High concentration of steroids are also found in adipose tissue, although this is not a target for hormone action. In the human male, adipose tissue contains aromatase activity, and seems to be the main source of androgen-derived estrogens found in the circulation. But most of the peripheral metabolism occurs in the liver and to some extent in the kidneys, which are the major sites of hormone inactivation and elimination, or catabolism (see below).
The mineralocorticoid pathway starts with 21-hydroxylation of progesterone to form deoxycorticosterone (DOC). The enzyme in this reaction, 21-hydroxylase, is encoded by the CYP21 gene. 11 , 12 Deoxycorticosterone is then converted to corticosterone through the action of 11β-hydroxylase. There are two distinct 11β-hydroxylase isoenzymes, both of which are encoded by two genes, CYP11B1 and CYP11B2 . 13 Corticosterone is hydroxylated at carbon 18 to form 18-hydroxycorticosterone, which is transformed to aldosterone by removal of two hydrogens (oxidation) at carbon 18. These two reactions are catalyzed by 18-hydroxylase and 18-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, respectively, which are encoded by the same gene, CYP11B2 . Transcription of CYP11B1 is regulated primarily by ACTH, whereas angiotensin II regulates CYP11B2 transcription. 14 , 15 Similarly, the glucocorticoid pathway begins with 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, which is converted to deoxycortisol and subsequently to cortisol by 21-hydroxylase and 11β-hydroxylase, respectively, in the same manner as the conversion of progesterone to corticosterone. A deficiency of 21-hydroxylase, 11β-hydroxylase, or 3β-HSD in the adrenals may result in congenital adrenal hyperplasia and female pseudohermaphroditism, manifested as a masculinized female fetus.