Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Molecule of the Month: Anabolic Steroids

by PhilipJ on 2 August 2007

Athletes are constantly striving for better performance in their sports. Most athletes stay in top shape through a rigorous training program in fitness and nutrition, giving them the strength and stamina to push their bodies to the physical limit. But some athletes also look to biochemistry to improve their performance even further. There are many ways to give nature an artificial boost. For instance, some athletes artificially increase the number of red blood cells in their blood, either by injecting purified cells or by using the blood-stimulating hormone erythropoietin. The extra red blood cells carry more oxygen to their straining muscles than in normal blood, giving them an edge in endurance. Similarly, many male athletes use steroid hormones like testosterone to spur their muscles into growth far beyond what is normally possible, giving them the edge in strength. These methods are controversial and regarded by many to be unethical, and thus are generally banned from organized sporting events. However, the many drug testing scandals currently in the news show that these methods are still in widespread use.

Anabolic steroids like testosterone are among the most common performance enhancing drugs used by athletes today. Anabolic steroids have two major functions. First, they are androgenic, being responsible for control of “male” characteristics. Before birth, testosterone directs the formation of male characteristics in the growing embryo, and at puberty, raised levels of testosterone direct the changes as a boy grows into a man. Second, these steroids are anabolic: they regulate anabolic processes such as synthesis of protein in muscle, formation of blood cells, and the emotional and physical aspects of sexual function.

More from David Goodsell here.



  1. Michael Blix    3516 days ago    #

    Thank you for your ‘molecule of the month,’ I enjoy them. How hard or what level of education would it take for someone to be able to synthesize testosterone from say cholesterol? An organic chemistry undergrad? It just seems like such a basic chemical as compared to higher atom count molecules and proteins?

    A little off topic, but I love those molecular images, specifically the black outline, low number of shaded colors ones like here. How exactly are these ones created?


  2. Andre    3516 days ago    #

    It’s not our molecule of the month: all the images are painted by David Goodsell from crystal structures in the protein data bank. For more info you should follow the link in the post to his site.

    As far as synthesis is concerned, I don’t know how difficult it would be. If you really want to know you should ask a chemist since I haven’t done a synthesis since my undergraduate organic courses.


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