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Free access

Eva A Rog-Zielinska, Rachel V Richardson, Martin A Denvir and Karen E Chapman

Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones, essential in mammals to prepare for life after birth. Blood levels of glucocorticoids (cortisol in most mammals including humans; corticosterone in rats and mice) rise dramatically shortly before birth. This is mimicked clinically in the routine administration of synthetic glucocorticoids to pregnant women threatened by a preterm birth or to preterm infants to improve neonatal survival. Whilst effects on lung are well documented and essential for postnatal survival, those on heart are less well known. In this study, we review recent evidence for a crucial role of glucocorticoids in late gestational heart maturation. Either insufficient or excessive glucocorticoid exposure before birth may alter the normal glucocorticoid-regulated trajectory of heart maturation with potential life-long consequences.

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.

Free access

F Gizard, E Teissier, I Dufort, G Luc, V Luu-The, B Staels and DW Hum

Steroid hormones synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal gland are important regulators of many physiological processes. It is now well documented that the expression of many genes required for steroid biosynthesis is dependent on the coordinated expression of the nuclear receptor steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1). However, transcriptional mechanisms underlying the species-specific, developmentally programmed and hormone-dependent modulation of the adrenal steroid pathways remain to be elucidated. Recently, we demonstrated that the transcriptional regulating protein of 132 kDa (TReP-132) acts as a coactivator of SF-1 to regulate human P450scc gene transcription in human adrenal NCI-H295 cells. The present study shows that overexpression of TReP-132 increases the level of active steroids produced in NCI-H295 cells. The conversion of pregnenolone to downstream steroids following TReP-132 expression showed increased levels of glucocorticoids, C(19) steroids and estrogens. Correlating with these data, TReP-132 increases P450c17 activities via the induction of transcript levels and promoter activity of the P450c17 gene, an effect that is enhanced in the presence of cAMP or SF-1. In addition, P450aro activity and mRNA levels are highly induced by TReP-132, whereas 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II and P450c11aldo transcript levels are only slightly modulated. Taken together, these results demonstrate that TReP-132 is a trans-acting factor of genes involved in adrenal glucocorticoid, C(19) steroid and estrogen production.

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.

Free access

Yewei Xing, C Richard Parker, Michael Edwards and William E Rainey

The adrenal glands are the primary source of minerocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and the so-called adrenal androgens. Under physiological conditions, cortisol and adrenal androgen synthesis are controlled primarily by ACTH. Although it has been established that ACTH can stimulate steroidogenesis, the effects of ACTH on overall gene expression in human adrenal cells have not been established. In this study, we defined the effects of chronic ACTH treatment on global gene expression in primary cultures of both adult adrenal (AA) and fetal adrenal (FA) cells. Microarray analysis indicated that 48 h of ACTH treatment caused 30 AA genes and 84 FA genes to increase by greater than fourfold, with 20 genes common in both cell cultures. Among these genes were six encoding enzymes involved in steroid biosynthesis, the ACTH receptor and its accessory protein, melanocortin 2 receptor accessory protein (ACTH receptor accessory protein). Real-time quantitative PCR confirmed the eight most upregulated and one downregulated common genes between two cell types. These data provide a group of ACTH-regulated genes including many that have not been previously studied with regard to adrenal function. These genes represent candidates for regulation of adrenal differentiation and steroid hormone biosynthesis.

Free access

Amanda J Rickard and Morag J Young

The mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) and glucocorticoid receptor are ligand-activated transcription factors that have important physiological and pathophysiological actions in a broad range of cell types including monocytes and macrophages. While the glucocorticoids cortisol and corticosterone have well-described anti-inflammatory actions on both recruited and tissue resident macrophages, a role for the mineralocorticoid aldosterone in these cells is largely undefined. Emerging evidence, however, suggests that MR signalling may promote pro-inflammatory effects. This review will discuss the current understanding of the role of corticosteroid receptors in macrophages and their effect on diseases involving inflammation, with a particular focus on cardiovascular disease.

Free access

S Kasper, PS Rennie, N Bruchovsky, L Lin, H Cheng, R Snoek, K Dahlman-Wright, JA Gustafsson, RP Shiu, PC Sheppard and RJ Matusik

Glucocorticoid and androgen receptors have been shown to function through the same palindromic glucocorticoid response element (GRE) and yet have differential effects on gene transcription. In this study, we examined the functional and structural relationship of the androgen and glucocorticoid receptors with the androgen responsive region (ARR) of the probasin (PB) gene containing two androgen receptor binding sites, ARBS-1 and ARBS-2. Transfection studies indicated that one copy of each cis-acting DNA element was essential for maximal androgen-induced chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) activity and that androgen selectivity was maintained when multiple copies of the minimal wild type (wt) androgen responsive region containing both ARBS-1 and ARBS-2 (-244 to -96) were subcloned in front of the thymidine kinase promoter. Furthermore, replacing the androgen response region with 1, 2 or 3 copies of either ARBS-1 or ARBS-2 restored less than 4% of the biological activity seen with the wt PB ARR. Multiple copies of either ARBS-1 or ARBS-2 did not result in glucocorticoid-induced CAT gene activity. By comparison, 1 or 2 copies of the tyrosine aminotransferase (TAT) GRE, as well as the mouse mammary tumour virus GRE, were strong inducers of CAT activity in response to both androgen and glucocorticoid treatment. In addition, band shift assays demonstrated that although the synthetic glucocorticoid receptor, GR-DNA binding domain (GR-DBD), and the synthetic androgen receptor, AR2, could interact with the TAT GRE (dissociation constants Kd of 63.9 and 14.1 respectively), only AR2 but not GR-DBD binding could be detected on ARBS-1 and ARBS-2. Our findings provide further evidence that androgen-induced regulation of gene transcription can occur through androgen-specific DNA binding sites that are distinct from the common GRE.

Free access

Y Wan and SK Nordeen

Glucocorticoids and progestins are two classes of steroid hormone with very distinct biological functions. However, the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and the progesterone receptor (PR) share many structural and functional similarities. One way that glucocorticoids and progestins can exert different biological effects is through their different abilities to regulate the expression of certain target genes. A strategy employing a retroviral promoter-trap and Cre/loxP-mediated site-specific recombination has been developed to identify genes that are differentially regulated by glucocorticoids and progestins. A mouse fibroblast cell line (4F) stably expressing both GR and PR and containing a single copy of a multifunctional selection plasmid is generated. This line is transduced with a self-inactivating retroviral promoter-trap vector carrying coding sequences for Cre-recombinase (Cre) in the U3 region. Integration of the provirus places Cre expression under the control of a genomic flanking sequence. Activation of Cre expression from integration into active genes results in a permanent switch between the selectable marker genes that converts the cells from neomycin-resistant to hygromycin-resistant. Selection for hygromycin resistance after hormone treatment yields recombinants in which Cre sequences in the U3 region are expressed from hormone-inducible upstream cellular promoters. Because Cre-mediated recombination is a permanent event, the expression of the selectable marker genes is independent of ongoing Cre expression. Thus this system permits the identification of genes that are transiently or weakly induced by hormone.

Free access

Shirlene X Ong, Keefe Chng, Michael J Meaney and Jan P Buschdorf

During pregnancy, glucocorticoids transfer environmental signals to the growing brain and its associated neuroendocrine system to modulate their maturation and function during adolescence and adulthood. Increased in utero exposure to glucocorticoids is associated with impaired fetal growth resulting in low birth weight (LBW) and compromised neural development. The underlying molecular changes affecting brain development, however, are largely unknown. Here, we compared the relative mRNA expression of genes directly involved in glucocorticoid signaling in the hippocampus, amygdala, and cortex of female non-human primate neonates (Macaca fascicularis) of naturally occurring normal birth weight and LBW. We focused on the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) genes as well as that for 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) and found a significantly decreased MR:GR mRNA ratio in the hippocampus and lower expression of 11β-HSD1 in the amygdala associated with LBW. The MR:GR mRNA ratio in the amygdala and cortex was not associated with birth weight, reflecting tissue-specific effects. Protein quantification in the hippocampus confirmed our finding of a decreased hippocampal MR:GR ratio. Our data suggest that the MR:GR ratio in the hippocampus and the expression of 11β-HSD1 in the amygdala are associated with intrauterine growth restriction in non-human primates during early perinatal development.

Free access

Nicole Gallo-Payet

The pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) plays a pivotal role in homeostasis and stress response and is thus the major component of the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal axis. After a brief summary of ACTH production from proopiomelanocortin (POMC) and on ACTH receptor properties, the first part of the review covers the role of ACTH in steroidogenesis and steroid secretion. We highlight the mechanisms explaining the differential acute vs chronic effects of ACTH on aldosterone and glucocorticoid secretion. The second part summarizes the effects of ACTH on adrenal growth, addressing its role as either a mitogenic or a differentiating factor. We then review the mechanisms involved in steroid secretion, from the classical Cyclic adenosine monophosphate second messenger system to various signaling cascades. We also consider how the interaction between the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton may trigger activation of signaling platforms potentially stimulating or repressing the steroidogenic potency of ACTH. Finally, we consider the extra-adrenal actions of ACTH, in particular its role in differentiation in a variety of cell types, in addition to its known lipolytic effects on adipocytes. In each section, we endeavor to correlate basic mechanisms of ACTH function with the pathological consequences of ACTH signaling deficiency and of overproduction of ACTH.