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Endocrine Abstracts (2016) 44 SE1.4 | DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.44.SE1.4

MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, The Queen's Medical Research Institute, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

“In the Lucanian woods among the oaks ‖ Of green Alburnus’ slopes there swarms a fly ‖ (By us called gad-fly, oestrus by the Greeks). ‖ It's fierce and buzzes monstrously: whole herds ‖ In terror of it scatter through the woods, ‖ Until the sky rings with their bellowing…” Virgil, Georgics, Book III [K.R. Mackenzie's translation].

Virgil's description of demented cattle shrouded in clouds of stinging gadfly provides a striking metaphor for hormone-induced sexual arousal and unwittingly links steroid signalling in mammals and insects. The Victorian reproductive biologist Walter Heape seized upon Virgil's verse to bring forward the concept of the ‘oestrous’ cycle, in which the female's period of heightened sexual receptivity to the male is called oestrus (derived from Greek οἶστρος ‘gadfly, breeze, sting, mad impulse’ Crystallisation of an oestrus-inducing steroid – oestrone – from the urine of pregnant women in 1929 founded the sex hormone era and launched reproductive medicine. A quarter of a century later a co-discoverer of oestrone, Adolph Butenandt, had a major hand in purifying ecdysone, the steroid hormone that induces moulting (ecdysis) in insects – including gadflies. Beyond their role in insect moulting, ecdysteroids are found at high concentrations in various plants including commonly consumed vegetables such as spinach. Their roles in plant physiology are uncertain but as nutraceuticals they have anabolic effects similar to androgenic steroids, apparently mediated via oestrogen receptor beta signalling. As such, ecdysteroids are putatively subject to misuse as performance enhancing substances in athletics [Parr MK et al. Biol. Sport 2015;32:169–173]. This talk explores the fascinating historical and chemical connections between oestrone and ecdysone and celebrates the ubiquity of steroid physiology and pharmacology.

Volume 44

Society for Endocrinology BES 2016

Brighton, UK
07 Nov 2016 - 09 Nov 2016

Society for Endocrinology 

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