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Salman Azhar, Dachuan Dong, Wen-Jun Shen, Zhigang Hu, and Fredric B Kraemer

miRNAs are endogenous noncoding single-stranded small RNAs of ~22 nucleotides in length that post-transcriptionally repress the expression of their various target genes. They contribute to the regulation of a variety of physiologic processes including embryonic development, differentiation and proliferation, apoptosis, metabolism, hemostasis and inflammation. In addition, aberrant miRNA expression is implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases including cancer, hepatitis, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic diseases. Steroid hormones regulate virtually every aspect of metabolism, and acute and chronic steroid hormone biosynthesis is primarily regulated by tissue-specific trophic hormones involving transcriptional and translational events. In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that steroidogenic pathways are also subject to post-transcriptional and post-translational regulations including processes such as phosphorylation/dephosphorylation, protein‒protein interactions and regulation by specific miRNAs, although the latter is in its infancy state. Here, we summarize the recent advances in miRNA-mediated regulation of steroidogenesis with emphasis on adrenal and gonadal steroidogenesis.

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A. R. Solano, L. Dada, and E. J. Podesta


Aldosterone secretion from adrenal glomerulosa cells can be stimulated by angiotensin II (AII), extracellular potassium and ACTH. Mitochondria from these cells respond to intracellular factors generated by AII (cyclic AMP (cAMP)-independent steroidogenesis) and ACTH (cAMP-dependent steroidogenesis), suggesting that the two signal-transduction mechanisms are linked by a common intermediate. We have evaluated this hypothesis by stimulating mitochondria from the unstimulated zona glomerulosa with a subcellular post-mitochondrial fraction (PMF) obtained from the zona glomerulosa after stimulation with AII or from the fasciculata gland after stimulation with ACTH; the subcellular fractions were also tested on mitochondria from fasciculata cells. PMFs obtained after incubation of adrenal zona glomerulosa with or without AII (0·1 μm) or ACTH (0·1 nm) were able to increase net progesterone synthesis 4·5-fold in mitochondria isolated from unstimulated rat zona glomerulosa. AII-pre-treated PMFs from the zona glomerulosa also stimulated steroidogenesis by mitochondria from zona fasciculata cells.

Separate experiments showed that inhibitors of arachidonic acid release and metabolism (bromophenacyl bromide, nordihydroguaiaretic acid, caffeic acid or esculetin) blocked corticosterone production in fasciculata cells stimulated with ACTH, suggesting that arachidonic acid could be the common intermediate in the actions of AII and ACTH on steroid synthesis. Evidence to support this concept was obtained from experiments in which the formation of an activated PMF by treatment of zona fasciculata with ACTH was blocked by the presence of the same inhibitors. Moreover, the inhibitory effects of these substances on PMF activation by ACTH were overcome by exogenous arachidonic acid and, in addition, arachidonic acid release was stimulated by ACTH.

We suggest that the mechanisms of action of ACTH and AII involve an increase in the release of arachidonic acid and conversion of arachidonic acid into lipoxygenase products. Both ACTH and AII may have a common intermediate, in spite of different membrane receptors and different signal-transduction mechanisms.

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S. Jackson, B. A. Spruce, D. M. Glover, B. P. Glynn, and P. J. Lowry


Two mouse monoclonal antibodies (PE-1 and PE-2) raised to a β-galactosidase—preproenkephalin A(69– 207) fusion peptide recognize pro-enkephalin A (pro-enk-A) peptides of 33–5 kDa isolated from bovine adrenal chromaffin granules. The preliminary characterization of the high molecular weight adrenomedullary pro-enk-A peptides recognized by PE-1 and PE-2 is described. The high molecular weight peptides were resolved after Sephadex G-50 chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) into three components (peaks I, II and III). Immunoblot analysis showed each HPLC peak to be heterogeneous. Peak I contained PE-1-and PE-2-immunoreactive peptides of 33, 29, 24 and 22 kDa; peak II contained a peptide of 22 kDa recognized by PE-2, and peptides of 24 and 22 kDa recognized by PE-1; peak III contained a PE-2-immunoreactive peptide of 15 kDa and PE-1-immunoreactive peptide of 18 kDa. Using polyclonal antibodies to peptide F and methionineenkephalin-Arg6-Gly7-Leu8 (MetEnk-RGL), the 22 kDa band cross-reacted with both MetEnk-RGL and peptide F antibodies, whilst the 24 kDa band was shown to possess predominantly MetEnk-RGL immunoreactivity. The 15 kDa (PE-2-immunoreactive) band was recognized by the peptide F but not the MetEnk-RGL antibody, whereas the polyclonal antibodies did not recognize the 18 kDa (PE-1-immunoreactive) band. We propose that the immunological and size characteristics of some of these peptides (29, 24/22, 15 kDa) suggest their similarity to the peptides of predicted molecular mass 23·3, 18·2 and 12·6 kDa previously found in bovine adrenal medulla. The results also indicate the existence of high molecular weight pro-enk-A peptides shortened at the N-terminus. The use of an immunoradiometric assay designed to measure the proenk-A-derived 18·2 kDa peptide using PE-2 and an affinity purified and radioiodinated MetEnk-RGL IgG has supported these findings.

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Pierre Moulin, Yves Guiot, Jean-Christophe Jonas, Jacques Rahier, Olivier Devuyst, and Jean-Claude Henquin

Na+/H+ exchangers (NHE) constitute a family of membrane antiporters that contribute to the regulation of cellular pH and volume in many tissues, including pancreatic islets. We investigated the molecular identity of NHE in rodent and human endocrine pancreas, and determined its cellular and subcellular localization. NHE1 was the most abundantly expressed isoform in rat islets, and was also expressed in mouse and human islets. By western blot, an antiserum raised against the C-terminus end of NHE1 confirmed the presence of a ~100 kDa protein corresponding to NHE1 in islets and unexpectedly unveiled the existence of a ~65 kDa cross-reactive NHE1-related protein. By immunohistochemistry, the antiserum labelled the membranes of pancreatic acini and ducts, but also diffusely stained the cytoplasm of insulin, glucagon and somatostatin cells as well as endocrine cells of the adrenal medulla. Electron microscopy localized the NHE1 immunoreactivity in the membrane of secretory granules, an unexpected finding supported by a decrease in immunohistochemical signal in degranulated β-cells. Islets of Slc9A1 swe/swe mice, which lack full NHE1 protein, were found to express an mRNA corresponding to the 3′ end of NHE1 as well as the ~65 kDa protein. They still showed the cytoplasmic labelling but no plasma membrane was stained. We conclude that both the full-length and the shorter-splice variant of NHE1 are expressed in all cell types of the endocrine pancreas and in the adrenal medulla of rodents and humans. The complete protein is addressed to the plasma membrane and the shorter one to the membrane of secretory granules where its function remains to be established.

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CA Smith, V Clifford, PS Western, SA Wilcox, KS Bell, and AH Sinclair

DAX1 is an unusual member of the orphan nuclear receptor family of transcription factors. Mutations in human DAX1 cause X-linked adrenal hypoplasia congenita, while abnormal duplication of the gene is responsible for male-to-female dosage-sensitive sex reversal. Based on these and other observations, DAX1 is thought to play a role in adrenal and gonadal development in mammals. As DAX1 has not previously been described in any other vertebrate, a putative avian DAX1 clone was isolated from an embryonic chicken (Gallus domesticus) urogenital ridge cDNA library. The expression profile of this cDNA was then examined during gonadogenesis. The clone included the conserved 3' ligand-binding motif identified in humans and mice but the 5' region lacked the repeat motif thought to specify a DNA-binding domain in mammals. Southern blot analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridisation mapping showed that the gene is autosomal, located on chromosome 1q. Sequence comparisons showed that the putative chicken DAX1 protein has 63 and 60% identity with the human and mouse proteins respectively over the region of the conserved ligand-binding domain. However, stronger identity (74%) exists with a putative alligator DAX1 sequence over the same region. Northern blotting detected a single 1.4 kb transcript in late embryonic chicken gonads, while RNase protection assays revealed expression in the embryonic gonads of both sexes during the period of sexual differentiation. Expression increased in both sexes during gonadogenesis, but was higher in females than in males. This is the first description of a DAX1 homologue in a non-mammalian vertebrate.

Free access

Zhigang Hu, Wen-Jun Shen, Fredric B Kraemer, and Salman Azhar

miR-132 is hormonally regulated in steroidogenic cells of the adrenal gland, ovary and testis. Here, we examined the potential role of miR-132 in the control of steroidogenesis. Transfection of Y1 adrenal cells with miR-132 increased mRNAs of 3β-HSD and 20α-HSD enzymes, which catalyze the sequential conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone to biologically inactive 20α-hydroxyprogesterone (20α-OHP). Overexpression of miR-132 reduced MeCP2 and StAR protein expression, basal progestin (progesterone and 20α-OHP) production, but enhanced their production in response to cAMP stimulation. Use of [3H] pregnenolone and free-diffusible 22(R)-hydroxycholesterol further confirmed that miR-132 promotes the production of 20α-OHP by upregulating 3β-HSD and 20α-HSD. Evidence is also presented that StAR is a direct target of miR-132. Transient transfection of Y1 cells with miR-132 demonstrated that miR-132 induction of 3β-HSD and 20α-HSD was accompanied by significant suppression of one of its target gene products, MeCP2. In contrast, co-expression of miR-132 plus MeCP2 protein partially blocked the ability of miR-132 to upregulate the expression and function of 3β-HSD and 20α-HSD. Moreover, suppression of MeCP2 protein with siRNA resulted in increased expression of 3β-HSD and 20α-HSD, further demonstrating that miR-132 induces the expression of these two enzymes via inhibition of MeCP2. Likewise, overexpression of miR-132 increased 20α-OHP production with and without HDL loading, while knockdown of miR-132 resulted in a significant decrease of 20α-OHP production by granulosa cells. In conclusion, our data suggest that miR-132 attenuates steroidogenesis by repressing StAR expression and inducing 20α-HSD via inhibition of MeCP2 to generate a biologically inactive 20α-OHP.

Free access

Zhor Bouizar, Bruno Ragazzon, Lucie Viou, Mariuccia Hortane, Jerôme Bertherat, and Marthe Rizk-Rabin

Various types of protein kinase A (PKA) alterations have been observed in adrenocortical tumours and Carney complex (CNC). PKA is a heterotetramer of two regulatory and two catalytic subunits. The R1A and R2B proteins are the most abundant regulatory subunits in endocrine tissues. A decrease in R2B protein levels has been observed in adrenal adenoma, whereas tumours from patients with CNC display a decrease in R1A protein levels. Dysregulation of the balance between R1A and R2B may thus be involved in adrenal tumourigenesis. We investigated the impact of the differences in the balance of PKA subunits on cell growth using specific cAMP analogues. We assessed the effects of 8-chloroadenosine-cAMP (8Cl-cAMP), a site-selective activator of PKA R2B, in H295R adrenocortical cells. 8Cl-cAMP stimulated PKA activity, decreased R1A levels and increased R2B levels. It had no cytotoxic effects, initially stimulating DNA synthesis and then inducing apoptosis by disrupting G2/M progression. We observed an initial accumulation of cells in the S phase, translocation of cyclin A to the nucleus, CDK2 activation, sustained DNA synthesis and proliferating cell nuclear antigen accumulation. Cell cycle arrest in the G2 phase was parallel with the accumulation of cyclin B and the inactivation of CDC2 kinase. The 8CPT-cAMP, which activates the R2B subunit, had similar effects. R2B silencing reduced the apoptosis induced by tumour necrosis factor α and transforming growth factor β. Thus, R2B is a key regulator of proliferation/differentiation in H295R cell line along with the complex balance between the PKA subunits. Activation of PKA R2B and dysregulation of the R1A/R2B balance regulate cell cycle progression and apoptosis in adrenocortical cells by modulating cyclin production and cyclin-dependent kinase activities.

Free access

Lichun Zhou, Baohua Ma, and Xiuzhen Han

Pathological cardiac hypertrophy is associated with nearly all forms of heart failure. It develops in response to disorders such as coronary artery disease, hypertension and myocardial infarction. Angiotensin II (Ang II) has direct effects on the myocardium and promotes hypertension. Chronic elevation of Ang II can lead to pathological cardiac hypertrophy and cardiac failure. Autophagy is an important process in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases. Under physiological conditions, autophagy is an essential homeostatic mechanism to maintain the global cardiac structure function by ridding damaged cells or unwanted macromolecules and organelles. Dysregulation of autophagy may play an important role in Ang II-induced cardiac hypertrophy although conflicting reports on the effects of Ang II on autophagy and cardiac hypertrophy exist. Some studies showed that autophagy activation attenuated Ang II-induced cardiac dysfunction. Others suggested that inhibition of the Ang II induced autophagy should be protective. The discrepancies may be due to different model systems and different signaling pathway involved. Ang II-induced cardiac hypertrophy may be alleviated through regulation of autophagy. This review focuses on Ang II to highlight the molecular targets and pathways identified in the prevention and treatment of Ang II-induced pathological cardiac hypertrophy by regulating autophagy.

Free access

Pia Kiilerich, Gérard Triqueneaux, Nynne Meyn Christensen, Vincent Trayer, Xavier Terrien, Marc Lombès, and Patrick Prunet

The salmonid corticosteroid receptors (CRs), glucocorticoid receptors 1 and 2 (GR1 and GR2) and the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) share a high degree of homology with regard to structure, ligand- and DNA response element-binding, and cellular co-localization. Typically, these nuclear hormone receptors homodimerize to confer transcriptional activation of target genes, but a few studies using mammalian receptors suggest some degree of heterodimerization. We observed that the trout MR confers a several fold lower transcriptional activity compared to the trout GRs. This made us question the functional relevance of the MR when this receptor is located in the same cells as the GRs and activated by cortisol. A series of co-transfection experiments using different glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) containing promoter-reporter constructs were carried out to investigate any possible interaction between the piscine CRs. Co-transfection of the GRs with the MR significantly reduced the total transcriptional activity even at low MR levels, suggesting interaction between these receptors. Co-transfection of GR1 or GR2 with the MR did not affect the subcellular localization of the GRs, and the MR-mediated inhibition seemed to be independent of specific activation or inhibition of the MR. Site-directed mutagenesis of the DNA-binding domain and dimerization interface of the MR showed that the inhibition was dependent on DNA binding but not necessarily on dimerization ability. Thus, we suggest that the interaction between MR and the GRs may regulate the cortisol response in cell types where the receptors co-localize and propose a dominant-negative role for the MR in cortisol-mediated transcriptional activity.

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R G Pestell, V E Hammond, and R J Crawford


DNA elements governing transcription of the ovine cytochrome P-450 side-chain cleavage (CYP11A1) gene were investigated. Three overlapping genomic clones for the ovine CYP11A1 gene were isolated and characterized. The transcriptional start site was located 51 nucleotides upstream from the initiating methionine. Gene transfer experiments were conducted in murine adrenocortical Y1 cells and human choriocarcinoma JEG-3 cells using chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter gene constructs containing promoter fragments from −2700 to −177 bp.

The results demonstrate that DNA elements sufficient to convey a basal level of expression and cyclic AMP (cAMP) responsiveness lie within 177 bp of the transcriptional start, although the possibility that additional regulatory elements reside outside this 177 bp has not been excluded. The ovine 5′ flanking sequence demonstrated 92% homology with the bovine sequence, extending over the entire fragment. In contrast, only four significant regions of conservation between the ovine, murine, rat and human CYP11A1 promoters were found. These regions are positioned within 200 bp upstream of the transcriptional start site.

DNase 1 footprinting was performed to identify DNA elements able to bind nuclear proteins. Primary adrenocortical and placental tissues from sheep were used as the source of nuclear extracts to detect DNA-protein interactions relevant to CYP11A1 gene expression in vivo. Five regions of protection were detected in the first −634 bp of the ovine CYP11A1 promoter. Three of these elements corresponded to the regions which are well-conserved between species. The other two elements resembled activating protein-1 (AP-1) and AP-4 sites and overlapping AP-2/Sp1 sites, and are conserved in the bovine gene but not in other species.

Nuclear protein extracts from adrenals of sheep with different serum ACTH levels (i.e. ACTH-treated, dexamethasone-treated and untreated sheep) protected similar regions of the ovine CYP11A1 promoter fragment. Similarly, the regions protected did not differ when nuclear protein from JEG-3 cells treated with cAMP was compared with that of untreated JEG-3 cells. These results suggest that induction of CYP11A1 gene transcription by ACTH in the ovine adrenal and by cAMP in JEG-3 cells in culture is not mediated by changes in binding of the proteins that interact directly with these footprinted elements.

The elements footprinted by extracts from primary ovine tissue lie within the 177 bp sufficient for cAMP-regulated expression. The correspondence of these elements either to regions conserved between species or to known consensus binding sites suggests that these sequences are cis elements involved in regulating transcription of the ovine CYP11A1 gene in vivo.