We emphasize problems with immunoassays for the measurement of steroids and review the emerging role of LC-MS/MS in the measurement of clinically relevant steroids. The latest generation of tandem mass spectrometers has superior limits of quantification, permitting omission of previously employed derivatization steps. The measurement of steroid profiles in the diagnosis and treatment of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, adrenal insufficiency, chronic pelvic pain and prostatitis, oncology (breast cancer), and athletes has important new applications.
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).
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