Neurosteroids in rodents can originate from peripheral tissues or be locally synthesized in specific brain areas. There is, as yet, no information about the synthesis and regulation of neurosteroids in human brain. We examined the ability of human brain cells to synthesize steroids from a radiolabeled precursor and the mRNA and protein expression of key components of peripheral steroidogenic machinery. Oligodendrocytes are the source of pregnenolone in human brain. Human astrocytes do not synthesize radiolabeled pregnenolone, nor do human neurons. There is potential for all three cell types to metabolize pregnenolone to other neurosteroids, including dehydroepiandrosterone. mRNA and protein for cytochrome P450 17alpha-hydroxylase were found in all cell types, although no activity could be demonstrated. We examined the ability of the cells to make dehydroepiandrosterone via an alternative pathway induced by treatment with Fe2+. Oligodendrocytes and astrocytes make dehydroepiandrosterone via this pathway, but neurons do not. In searching for a natural regulator of dehydroepiandrosterone formation, we observed that treating oligodendrocytes with beta-amyloid, which increases reactive oxygen species, also increased dehydroepiandrosterone formation. These effects of beta-amyloid were blocked by vitamin E. These results indicate that human brain makes steroids in a cell-specific manner and suggest that dehydroepiandrosterone synthesis can be regulated by intracellular free radicals.