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Open access

Emma J Agnew, Jessica R Ivy, Sarah J Stock and Karen E Chapman

Glucocorticoids are essential in mammals to mature fetal organs and tissues in order to survive after birth. Hence, antenatal glucocorticoid treatment (termed antenatal corticosteroid therapy) can be life-saving in preterm babies and is commonly used in women at risk of preterm birth. While the effects of glucocorticoids on lung maturation have been well described, the effects on the fetal heart remain less clear. Experiments in mice have shown that endogenous glucocorticoid action is required to mature the fetal heart. However, whether the potent synthetic glucocorticoids used in antenatal corticosteroid therapy have similar maturational effects on the fetal heart is less clear. Moreover, antenatal corticosteroid therapy may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Here, we present a narrative review of the evidence relating to the effects of antenatal glucocorticoid action on the fetal heart and discuss the implications for antenatal corticosteroid therapy.

Open access

Gillian A Gray, Christopher I White, Raphael F P Castellan, Sara J McSweeney and Karen E Chapman

Corticosteroids influence the development and function of the heart and its response to injury and pressure overload via actions on glucocorticoid (GR) and mineralocorticoid (MR) receptors. Systemic corticosteroid concentration depends largely on the activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, but glucocorticoid can also be regenerated from intrinsically inert metabolites by the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), selectively increasing glucocorticoid levels within cells and tissues. Extensive studies have revealed the roles for glucocorticoid regeneration by 11β-HSD1 in liver, adipose, brain and other tissues, but until recently, there has been little focus on the heart. This article reviews the evidence for glucocorticoid metabolism by 11β-HSD1 in the heart and for a role of 11β-HSD1 activity in determining the myocardial growth and physiological function. We also consider the potential of 11β-HSD1 as a therapeutic target to enhance repair after myocardial infarction and to prevent the development of cardiac remodelling and heart failure.

Open access

Yasmine Hachemi, Anna E Rapp, Ann-Kristin Picke, Gilbert Weidinger, Anita Ignatius and Jan Tuckermann

Glucocorticoid hormones (GCs) have profound effects on bone metabolism. Via their nuclear hormone receptor – the GR – they act locally within bone cells and modulate their proliferation, differentiation, and cell death. Consequently, high glucocorticoid levels – as present during steroid therapy or stress – impair bone growth and integrity, leading to retarded growth and glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis, respectively. Because of their profound impact on the immune system and bone cell differentiation, GCs also affect bone regeneration and fracture healing. The use of conditional-mutant mouse strains in recent research provided insights into the cell-type-specific actions of the GR. However, despite recent advances in system biology approaches addressing GR genomics in general, little is still known about the molecular mechanisms of GCs and GR in bone cells. Here, we review the most recent findings on the molecular mechanisms of the GR in general and the known cell-type-specific actions of the GR in mesenchymal cells and their derivatives as well as in osteoclasts during bone homeostasis, GC excess, bone regeneration and fracture healing.

Open access

Irina G Bogdarina, Peter J King and Adrian J L Clark

Angiotensin II acts through two pharmacologically distinct receptors known as AT1 and AT2. Duplication of the AT1 receptor in rodents into At1a and b subtypes allows tissue-specific expression of the AT1b in adrenal and pituitary tissue. Adrenal expression of this receptor is increased in the offspring of rat mothers exposed to a low-protein diet and this is associated with the undermethylation of its promoter. This phenomenon is blocked by the inhibition of maternal glucocorticoid synthesis by metyrapone. We have mapped the transcriptional start site of the promoter and demonstrated that a 1.2 kbp fragment upsteam of this site is effective in driving luciferase expression in mouse Y1 cells. A combination of bioinformatic analysis, electrophoretic mobility shift analysis (EMSA), and mutagenesis studies demonstrates: i) the presence of a putative TATA box and CAAT box; ii) the presence of three Sp1 response elements, capable of binding SP1; mutation of any pair of these sites effectively disables this promoter; iii) the presence of four potential glucocorticoid response elements which each bind glucocorticoid receptor in EMSA, although only two confer dexamethasone inhibition on the promoter; iv) the presence of two AP1 sites. Mutagenesis of the distal AP1 site greatly diminishes promoter function but this is also associated with the loss of dexamethasone inhibition. These studies will facilitate an understanding of the mechanisms by which fetal programming leads to long term alterations in gene expression and the development of adult disease.

Open access

Rebecca J Gorrigan, Leonardo Guasti, Peter King, Adrian J Clark and Li F Chan

The melanocortin-2-receptor (MC2R)/MC2R accessory protein (MRAP) complex is critical to the production of glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex. Inactivating mutations in either MC2R or MRAP result in the clinical condition familial glucocorticoid deficiency. The localisation of MC2R together with MRAP within the adrenal gland has not previously been reported. Furthermore, MRAP2, a paralogue of MRAP, has been shown in vitro to have a similar function to MRAP, facilitating MC2R trafficking and responsiveness to ACTH. Despite similar MC2R accessory functions, in vivo, patients with inactivating mutations of MRAP fail to be rescued by a functioning MRAP2 gene, suggesting differences in adrenal expression, localisation and/or function between the two MRAPs. In this study on the rat adrenal gland, we demonstrate that while MRAP and MC2R are highly expressed in the zona fasciculata, MRAP2 is expressed throughout the adrenal cortex in low quantities. In the developing adrenal gland, both MRAP and MRAP2 are equally well expressed. The MC2R/MRAP2 complex requires much higher concentrations of ACTH to activate compared with the MC2R/MRAP complex. Interestingly, expression of MC2R and MRAP in the undifferentiated zone would support the notion that ACTH may play an important role in adrenal cell differentiation and maintenance.

Open access

Marc Simard, Caroline Underhill and Geoffrey L Hammond

Corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) is a plasma carrier of glucocorticoids. Human and rat CBGs have six N-glycosylation sites. Glycosylation of human CBG influences its steroid-binding activity, and there are N-glycosylation sites in the reactive center loops (RCLs) of human and rat CBGs. Proteolysis of the RCL of human CBG causes a structural change that disrupts steroid binding. We now show that mutations of conserved N-glycosylation sites at N238 in human CBG and N230 in rat CBG disrupt steroid binding. Inhibiting glycosylation by tunicamycin also markedly reduced human and rat CBG steroid-binding activities. Deglycosylation of fully glycosylated human CBG or human CBG with only one N-glycan at N238 with Endo H-reduced steroid-binding affinity, while PNGase F-mediated deglycosylation does not, indicating that steroid binding is preserved by deamidation of N238 when its N-glycan is removed. When expressed in N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase-I-deficient Lec1 cells, human and rat CBGs, and a human CBG mutant with only one glycosylation site at N238, have higher (2–4 fold) steroid-binding affinities than when produced by sialylation-deficient Lec2 cells or glycosylation-competent CHO-S cells. Thus, the presence and composition of an N-glycan in this conserved position both appear to influence the steroid binding of CBG. We also demonstrate that neutrophil elastase cleaves the RCL of human CBG and reduces its steroid-binding capacity more efficiently than does chymotrypsin or the Pseudomonas aeruginosa protease LasB. Moreover, while glycosylation of N347 in the RCL limits these activities, N-glycans at other sites also appear to protect CBG from neutrophil elastase or chymotrypsin.

Open access

Irit Hochberg, Innocence Harvey, Quynh T Tran, Erin J Stephenson, Ariel L Barkan, Alan R Saltiel, William F Chandler and Dave Bridges

Glucocorticoids have major effects on adipose tissue metabolism. To study tissue mRNA expression changes induced by chronic elevated endogenous glucocorticoids, we performed RNA sequencing on the subcutaneous adipose tissue from patients with Cushing's disease (n=5) compared to patients with nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas (n=11). We found a higher expression of transcripts involved in several metabolic pathways, including lipogenesis, proteolysis and glucose oxidation as well as a decreased expression of transcripts involved in inflammation and protein synthesis. To further study this in a model system, we subjected mice to dexamethasone treatment for 12 weeks and analyzed their inguinal (subcutaneous) fat pads, which led to similar findings. Additionally, mice treated with dexamethasone showed drastic decreases in lean body mass as well as increased fat mass, further supporting the human transcriptomic data. These data provide insight to transcriptional changes that may be responsible for the comorbidities associated with chronic elevations of glucocorticoids.

Open access

Eugenia Mata-Greenwood, P Naomi Jackson, William J Pearce and Lubo Zhang

We have previously shown that in vitro sensitivity to dexamethasone (DEX) stimulation in human endothelial cells is positively regulated by the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1, GR). The present study determined the role of differential GR transcriptional regulation in glucocorticoid sensitivity. We studied 25 human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) that had been previously characterized as DEX-sensitive (n=15), or resistant (n=10). Real-time PCR analysis of GR 5′UTR mRNA isoforms showed that all HUVECs expressed isoforms 1B, 1C, 1D, 1F, and 1H, and isoforms 1B and 1C were predominantly expressed. DEX-resistant cells expressed higher basal levels of the 5′UTR mRNA isoforms 1C and 1D, but lower levels of the 5′UTR mRNA isoform 1F than DEX-sensitive cells. DEX treatment significantly decreased GRα and GR-1C mRNA isoform expression in DEX-resistant cells only. Reporter luciferase assays indicated that differential GR mRNA isoform expression was not due to differential promoter usage between DEX-sensitive and DEX-resistant cells. Analysis of promoter methylation, however, showed that DEX-sensitive cells have higher methylation levels of promoter 1D and lower methylation levels of promoter 1F than DEX-resistant cells. Treatment with 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine abolished the differential 5′UTR mRNA isoform expression between DEX-sensitive and DEX-resistant cells. Finally, both GRα overexpression and 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine treatment eliminated the differences between sensitivity groups to DEX-mediated downregulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS3), and upregulation of plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (SERPINE1). In sum, human endothelial GR 5′UTR mRNA expression is regulated by promoter methylation with DEX-sensitive and DEX-resistant cells having different GR promoter methylation patterns.

Open access

Indrajit Chowdhury, Kelwyn Thomas, Anthony Zeleznik and Winston E Thompson

Published results from our laboratory identified prohibitin (PHB), a gene product expressed in granulosa cells (GCs) that progressively increases during follicle maturation. Our current in vitro studies demonstrate that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates Phb expression in rat primary GCs. The FSH-dependent expression of PHB was primarily localized within mitochondria, and positively correlates with the morphological changes in GCs organelles, and synthesis and secretions of estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4). In order to confirm that PHB plays a regulatory role in rat GC differentiation, endogenous PHB-knockdown studies were carried out in undifferentiated GCs using adenoviral (Ad)-mediated RNA interference methodology. Knockdown of PHB in GCs resulted in the suppression of the key steroidogenic enzymes including steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), p450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (p450scc), 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD), and aromatase (Cyp19a1); and decreased E2 and P4 synthesis and secretions in the presence of FSH stimulation. Furthermore, these experimental studies also provided direct evidence that PHB within the mitochondrial fraction in GCs is phosphorylated at residues Y249, T258, and Y259 in response to FSH stimulation. The observed levels of phosphorylation of PHB at Y249, T258, and Y259 were significantly low in GCs in the absence of FSH stimulation. In addition, during GC differentiation FSH-induced expression of phospho-PHB (pPHB) requires the activation of MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling pathway. Taken together, these studies provide new evidence supporting FSH-dependent PHB/pPHB upregulation in GCs is required to sustain the differentiated state of GCs.

Open access

J M Young and A S McNeilly

Activin and inhibin are important local modulators of theca cell steroidogenesis in the ovary. Using a serum-free primary theca cell culture system, this study investigated the effects of inhibin on theca cell androgen production and expression of steroidogenic enzymes. Androstenedione secretion from theca cells cultured in media containing activin, inhibin and follistatin was assessed by RIA over 144 h. Activin (1–100 ng/ml) suppressed androstenedione production. Inhibin (1–100 ng/ml) blocked the suppressive effects of added activin, but increased androstenedione production when added alone, suggesting it was blocking endogenous activin produced by theca cells. Addition of SB-431542 (activin receptor inhibitor) and follistatin (500 ng/ml) increased androstenedione production, supporting this concept. Infection of theca cells with adenoviruses expressing inhibitory Smad6 or 7 increased androstenedione secretion, confirming that the suppressive effects of activin required activation of the Smad2/3 pathway. Activin decreased the expression levels of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR), whereas STAR expression was increased by inhibin and SB-431542, alone and in combination. CYP11A was unaffected. The expression of CYP17 encoding 17α-hydroxylase was unaffected by activin but increased by inhibin and SB-431542, and when added in combination the effect was further enhanced. The expression of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3 β -HSD) was significantly decreased by activin, while inhibin alone and in combination with SB-431542 both potently increased the expression of 3 β -HSD. In conclusion, activin suppressed theca cell androstenedione production by decreasing the expression of STAR and 3 β -HSD. Inhibin and other blockers of activin action reversed this effect, supporting the concept that endogenous thecal activin modulates androgen production in theca cells.