The proliferation and differentiation of normal prostate epithelial cells depends upon the action of androgens produced by the testis. Prostate cancers retain the ability to respond to androgens in the initial stages of cancer development, but progressively become independent of exogenous androgens in advanced stages of the disease while maintaining the expression of functional androgen receptor (AR). In the present study, we have determined the potential of prostate cancer cells to synthesize androgens from cholesterol which may be involved in intracrine regulation of AR in advanced stages of the disease. Established androgen-independent prostate cancer cell lines, PC3 and DU145 cells, expressed mRNA and proteins for scavenger receptor type B1 (SRB1), steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein, cytochrome P450 cholesterol side chain cleavage (P450scc), 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3beta-HSD) and other enzymes involved in androgen biosynthesis. Expression of all these proteins and enzymes was significantly higher in the androgen-independent derivative of LNCaP prostate cancer cells (C81) than in the androgen-dependent cell line (C33). In serum-free cultures, the androgen-independent C81 cells secreted approximately 5-fold higher testosterone than C33 cells as determined in the conditioned media by immunoassays. These cells could also directly convert radioactive cholesterol into testosterone which was identified by thin layer chromatography. These results for the first time show that prostate cancer cells in advanced stages of the disease could synthesize androgens from cholesterol and hence are not dependent upon testicular and/or adrenal androgens.