Albumin, steroid hormones and the origin of vertebrates


    Albumin, the major serum protein, binds a wide variety of lipophilic compounds including steroids, other lipophilic hormones and various phytochemicals and xenobiotics that bind to receptors for steroids and other lipophilic hormones. Despite albumin's low affinity (K(d) approximately 10(-4) M to 10(-6) M) for these lipophilic compounds, the high concentration of albumin in serum makes this protein a major carrier of steroids and lipophilic hormones and a regulator of their access to receptors. Albumin also functions as a sink for xenobiotics, diminishing the binding of xenobiotics to hormone receptors and other cellular proteins. This protects animals from endocrine disruption by xenobiotics. We propose that these properties of albumin were important in protochordates and primitive vertebrates, such as jawless fish, about 600 to 530 million years ago, just before and during the Cambrian period. It is at that time that the ancestral receptors of adrenal and sex steroids - androgens, estrogens, glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and progestins - arose in multicellular animals. Albumin regulated access of steroids to their receptors, as well as protecting animals from endocrine disruptors, such as phytochemicals, fungal chemicals and phenolics, and other chemicals formed at hydrothermal vents by geochemical processes. Thus, animals in which albumin expression was high had a selective advantage in regulating the steroid response and avoiding endocrine disruption by xenobiotics.

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