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A steroids is an organic compound with four rings arranged in a specific molecular configuration. Examples include the dietary lipid cholesterol, the sex hormones estradiol and testosterone10–19 and the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone. Steroid have two principal biological functions: certain steroid (such as cholesterol) are important components of cell membranes which alter membrane fluidity, and many steroid are signaling molecules which activate steroid hormone receptors.

The steroid core structure is composed of seventeen carbon atoms, bonded in four “fused” rings: three six-member cyclohexane rings (rings A, B and C in the first illustration) and one five-member cyclopentane ring (the D ring). Steroid vary by the functional groups attached to this four-ring core and by the oxidation state of the rings. Sterols are forms of steroids with a hydroxyl group at position three and a skeleton derived from cholestane.1785f They can also vary more markedly by changes to the ring structure (for example, ring scissions which produce secosteroids such as vitamin D3).

Hundreds of steroids are found in plants, animals and fungi. All steroids are manufactured in cells from the sterols lanosterol (animals and fungi) or cycloartenol (plants). Lanosterol and cycloartenol are derived from the cyclization of the triterpene squalene.

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