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Among the multifactorial aspects of regulation of steroid hydroxylase gene expression, it is the developmental process which leads to imprinting of expression of particular steroid hydroxylases in specific cell types. We have begun to investigate the ontogeny of steroidogenesis in fetal bovine tissues. Expression of most steroid hydroxylases and related enzymes is detectable in adrenals of the smallest fetuses studied and continues throughout fetal life. Like the other steroid hydroxylases, P-450(17)alpha is detectable in the earliest fetal adrenals studied. However, following an increase in expression, P-450(17)alpha disappears from the fetal adrenal by 100 days gestational age and remains absent until about 230 days gestational age. The absence of P-450(17)alpha is correlated with the absence of cortisol in the fetal adrenal and the absence of ACTH in fetal plasma. Thus expression of P-450(17)alpha in bovine fetal adrenal appears to be strictly dependent on cAMP while expression of other steroid hydroxylases appears to involve both cAMP-dependent and cAMP-independent mechanisms. Furthermore, P-450(17)alpha is expressed in fetal testis at gestational times when it is absent in fetal adrenal. We have begun to examine binding of nuclear proteins from adrenals of various gestational ages to the 5'-flanking region of the bovine P-450(17)alpha gene. Preliminary evidence indicates the presence of a protein in nuclei of fetal adrenals not expressing P-450(17)alpha that is not present in fetal adrenals of other gestational ages.