A steroid is a type of organic compound that contains a specific arrangement of four cycloalkane rings that are joined to each other. Examples of steroids include the dietary fat cholesterol, the sex hormones estradiol and testosterone, and the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone.
The core of steroids is composed of seventeen carbon atoms bonded together that take the form of four fused rings: three cyclohexane rings (designated as rings A, B, and C in the figure to the right) and one cyclopentane ring (the D ring). The steroids vary by the functional groups attached to this four ring core and by the oxidation state of the rings. Sterols are special forms of steroids, with a hydroxyl group at position-3 and a skeleton derived from cholestane.
Hundreds of distinct steroids are found in plants, animals, and fungi. All steroids are made in cells either from the sterols lanosterol (animals and fungi) or from cycloartenol (plants). Both lanosterol and cycloartenol are derived from the cyclization of the triterpene squalene.