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J J G Hillebrand, A C M Heinsbroek, M J H Kas and R A H Adan

Biochemical, genetic and imaging studies support the involvement of the serotonin (5-HT) system in anorexia nervosa. Activity-based anorexia (ABA) is considered an animal model of anorexia nervosa, and combines scheduled feeding with voluntary running wheel activity (RWA). We investigated the effect of d-fenfluramine (d-FEN) treatment on development and propagation of ABA. d-FEN is an appetite suppressant and acts on 5-HT2C receptors that are located on pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. Since stimulation activation of the melanocortin system stimulates ABA, we hypothesized that d-FEN treatment enhances the development and propagation of ABA. Rats were exposed to the ABA model and chronically infused with d-FEN. Unexpectedly, d-FEN-treated ABA rats did not reduce food intake or increase wheel running as compared with vehicle-treated ABA rats. Furthermore d-FEN treatment did not affect body weight loss, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis activation, or starvation-induced hypothermia in ABA rats. POMC mRNA levels in d-FEN-treated rats were not different from vehicle-treated rats after one week of exposure to the ABA paradigm. However, d-FEN-treated ABA rats showed hypodypsia and increased plasma osmolality and arginine-vasopressin expression levels in the hypothalamus. We conclude that d-FEN treatment does not enhance ABA under the experimental conditions of this study, but strongly reduces water intake in ABA rats.

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G Aguilera, S Volpi and C Rabadan-Diehl

The number of V1b vasopressin receptors (V1bR) in the anterior pituitary plays an important role during adaptation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to stress in rats. Regulation of V1bR expression involves transcriptional and translational mechanisms. One of the elements mediating transcriptional activation of the rat V1bR gene is a long stretch of GAGA repeats (GAGA box) in the promoter located near the transcription start point capable of binding a protein complex of 127 kDa present in pituitary nuclear extracts. There is a lack of correlation between changes in V1bR mRNA and the number of VP binding sites, suggesting that V1bR expression depends on the efficiency of V1b R mRNA translation into protein. Two mechanisms by which the 5' untranslated region (5'-UTR) of the rat V1bR mRNA can mediate either inhibition or activation of V1bR mRNA translation have been identified. First, upstream open reading frames (ORF) present in the 5'-UTR repress translation of the major ORF encoding the V1b receptor, and secondly, an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) activates V1bR translation. Stimulation of IRES activity through protein kinase C-mediated pathways results in V1bR mRNA translation increasing V1bR protein levels. The existence of multiple loci of regulation for the V1bR at transcriptional and translational levels provides a mechanism to facilitate plasticity of regulation of the number of pituitary vasopressin receptors according to physiological demand.

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MA Ventura, P Rene, Y de Keyzer, X Bertagna and E Clauser

The gene of the mouse V3/V1b receptor was identified by homology cloning. One of the genomic clones contained the entire coding sequence. The cDNA presented high identity with rat (92%) and human (84%) sequences. Southern blot analysis indicated the existence of a single gene. Tissue distribution was studied by RT-PCR. The major site of expression was the pituitary. A faint signal was also present in hypothalamus, brain, adrenal, pancreas and colon. The mouse corticotroph cell line, AtT20, did not express the transcript. In order to confirm the identity of the sequence, the V3/V1b receptor cDNA was cloned and stably expressed in CHO-AA8 Tet-Off cells under the control of tetracycline. When transfected cells were treated with arginine vasopressin (AVP), inositol phosphate production increased in a dose-dependent manner, indicating that the V3/V1b receptor couples to phospholipase C. Moreover, AVP did not stimulate cAMP production. Binding studies with [3H]AVP indicated that the affinity of the mouse V3/V1b receptor (Kd=0.5 nM) is similar to that reported for rat and human receptors. The rank order of potency established in competition binding experiments with different analogues was representative of a V3/V1b profile, distinct from V1a and V2. However, significant differences were found between human and mouse receptors tested in parallel. Thus the pharmacology of V3/V1b receptors can not be transposed among different species.

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Martien J H Kas, Adrie W Bruijnzeel, Jurgen R Haanstra, Victor M Wiegant and Roger A H Adan

Stress affects eating behaviour in rodents and humans, suggesting that the regulation of energy balance and the stress response are coupled physiological processes. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) and agouti-related protein (AgRP) are potent food-stimulating neuropeptides that are highly co-localised in arcuate nucleus neurons of the hypothalamus. Recent studies have shown that NPY and AgRP mRNA levels in these neurons respond similarly to fasting and leptin, indicating functional redundancy of the neuropeptide systems in these orexigenic neurons. However, we have found that NPY and AgRP mRNA expression in arcuate nucleus neurons are dissociated immediately following a stressful event. Two hours following a brief session of inescapable foot shocks, AgRP mRNA levels are down-regulated (P < 0.0001). In contrast, NPY mRNA levels are up-regulated (P < 0.0001). To provide physiological relevance for this acute down-regulation of AgRP, an inverse agonist of melanocortin receptors, we have shown that acute intracerebroventricular injection of a melanocortin receptor agonist, α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), caused a significantly stronger activation of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal-cortical (HPA) axis following a stressful event than in controls. Thus, AgRP and NPY mRNA levels in similar arcuate nucleus neurons are differentially regulated following a stressful event. This may contribute to increased sensitivity for α-MSH to activate the HPA axis following a repeated stressful experience.

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Christian Fottner, Timo Minnemann, Sarah Kalmbach and Matthias M Weber

In order to determine the role of the IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR) in human pheochromocytomas we have compared the expression of the IGF-IR in normal tissues and in pheochromocytomas with regard to the IGF-IR mRNA levels and ligand binding. By semiquantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), the mRNA of the IGF-IR could be detected in all samples of normal adrenomedullary cells (n=13) and pheochromocytomas (n=16). However, pheochromocytomas exhibited 2.8-fold higher mean IGF-IR mRNA levels than normal adrenomedullary cells (2.8±0.5×105 molecules/μg RNA vs 7.8±1.2×105 molecules/μg RNA; P < 0.001). This overexpression of the IGF-IR in pheochromocytomas could be confirmed at the protein level by binding studies. Radioligand assays and Scatchard analysis revealed a single class of high affinity IGF-IR binding sites with a similar dissociation constant (K d: 0.32±0.1 nmol/l vs 0.22±0.08 nmol/l) for both normal adrenomedullary cells and pheochromocytomas. However, specific 125I-labeled IGF-I binding and the calculated receptor concentration were significantly elevated in pheochromocytomas as compared with normal adrenomedullary cells (58.3±5 vs 24.3±12 nmol/kg protein; P < 0.05). In summary, our results demonstrate significant overexpression of the IGF-IR in human pheochromocytomas. This suggests a possible role of the IGF system in the pathogenesis of adrenal neoplasia and thus IGF-IR may be a target for future therapeutic approaches.

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B C J Dirven, J R Homberg, T Kozicz and M J A G Henckens

The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is critically involved in the neuroendocrine regulation of stress adaptation, and the restoration of homeostasis following stress exposure. Dysregulation of this axis is associated with stress-related pathologies like major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and chronic anxiety. It has long been understood that stress during early life can have a significant lasting influence on the development of the neuroendocrine system and its neural regulators, partially by modifying epigenetic regulation of gene expression, with implications for health and well-being in later life. Evidence is accumulating that epigenetic plasticity also extends to adulthood, proposing it as a mechanism by which psychological trauma later in life can long-lastingly affect HPA axis function, brain plasticity, neuronal function and behavioural adaptation to neuropsychological stress. Further corroborating this claim is the phenomenon that these epigenetic changes correlate with the behavioural consequences of trauma exposure. Thereby, epigenetic modifications provide a putative molecular mechanism by which the behavioural phenotype and transcriptional/translational potential of genes involved in HPA axis regulation can change drastically in response to environmental challenges, and appear an important target for treatment of stress-related disorders. However, improved insight is required to increase their therapeutic (drug) potential. Here, we provide an overview of the growing body of literature describing the epigenetic modulation of the (primarily neuroendocrine) stress response as a consequence of adult life stress and interpret the implications for, and the challenges involved in applying this knowledge to, the identification and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

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Andrea Weckman, Antonio Di Ieva, Fabio Rotondo, Luis V Syro, Leon D Ortiz, Kalman Kovacs and Michael D Cusimano

Autophagy is an important cellular process involving the degradation of intracellular components. Its regulation is complex and while there are many methods available, there is currently no single effective way of detecting and monitoring autophagy. It has several cellular functions that are conserved throughout the body, as well as a variety of different physiological roles depending on the context of its occurrence in the body. Autophagy is also involved in the pathology of a wide range of diseases. Within the endocrine system, autophagy has both its traditional conserved functions and specific functions. In the endocrine glands, autophagy plays a critical role in controlling intracellular hormone levels. In peptide-secreting cells of glands such as the pituitary gland, crinophagy, a specific form of autophagy, targets the secretory granules to control the levels of stored hormone. In steroid-secreting cells of glands such as the testes and adrenal gland, autophagy targets the steroid-producing organelles. The dysregulation of autophagy in the endocrine glands leads to several different endocrine diseases such as diabetes and infertility. This review aims to clarify the known roles of autophagy in the physiology of the endocrine system, as well as in various endocrine diseases.

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Robert M Dores, Richard L Londraville, Jeremy Prokop, Perry Davis, Nathan Dewey and Natalie Lesinski

The melanocortin receptors (MCRs) are a family of G protein-coupled receptors that are activated by melanocortin ligands derived from the proprotein, proopiomelanocortin (POMC). During the radiation of the gnathostomes, the five receptors have become functionally segregated (i.e. melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), pigmentation regulation; MC2R, glucocorticoid synthesis; MC3R and MC4R, energy homeostasis; and MC5R, exocrine gland physiology). A focus of this review is the role that ligand selectivity plays in the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal–interrenal (HPA–I) axis of teleosts and tetrapods as a result of the exclusive ligand selectivity of MC2R for the ligand ACTH. A second focal point of this review is the roles that the accessory proteins melanocortin 2 receptor accessory protein 1 (MRAP1) and MRAP2 are playing in, respectively, the HPA–I axis (MC2R) and the regulation of energy homeostasis by neurons in the hypothalamus (MC4R) of teleosts and tetrapods. In addition, observations are presented on trends in the ligand selectivity parameters of cartilaginous fish, teleost, and tetrapod MC1R, MC3R, MC4R, and MC5R paralogs, and the modeling of the HFRW motif of ACTH(1–24) when compared with α-MSH. The radiation of the MCRs during the evolution of the gnathostomes provides examples of how the physiology of endocrine and neuronal circuits can be shaped by ligand selectivity, the intersession of reverse agonists (agouti-related peptides (AGRPs)), and interactions with accessory proteins (MRAPs).

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Andres J Casal, Victoria J P Sinclair, Alessandro M Capponi, Jérôme Nicod, Uyen Huynh-Do and Paolo Ferrari

We have identified a novel cytosine/thymidine polymorphism of the human steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) gene promoter located 3 bp downstream of the steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1)-binding site and 9 bp upstream of the TATA box (ATTTAAG). Carriers of this mutation have a high prevalence of primary aldosteronism. In transfection experiments, basal StAR promoter activity was unaltered by the mutation in murine Y-1 cells and human H295R cells. In Y-1 cells, forskolin (25 μM, 6 h) significantly increased wild-type promoter activity to 230±33% (P<0.05, n=4). In contrast, forskolin increased mutated promoter activity only to 150±27%, with a significant 35% reduction compared to wild type (P<0.05, n=3). In H295R cells, angiotensin II (AngII; 10 nM) increased wild-type StAR promoter activity to 265±22% (P<0.01, n=3), while mutated StAR promoter activity in response to AngII only reached 180±29% of controls (P<0.01, n=3). Gel mobility shift assays show the formation of two additional complexes with the mutated promoter: one with the transcription repressor DAX-1 and another with a yet unidentified factor, which strongly binds the SF-1 response element. Thus, this novel mutation in the human StAR promoter is critically involved in the regulation of StAR gene expression and is associated with reduced promoter activity, a finding relevant for adrenal steroid response to physiological stimulators.

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David A Lovejoy, Belinda S W Chang, Nathan R Lovejoy and Jon del Castillo

Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) is the pivotal neuroendocrine peptide hormone associated with the regulation of the stress response in vertebrates. However, CRH-like peptides are also found in a number of invertebrate species. The origin of this peptide can be traced to a common ancestor of lineages leading to chordates and to arthropods, postulated to occur some 500 million years ago. Evidence indicates the presence of a single CRH-like receptor and a soluble binding protein system that acted to transduce and regulate the actions of the early CRH peptide. In vertebrates, genome duplications led to the divergence of CRH receptors into CRH1 and CRH2 forms in tandem with the development of four paralogous ligand lineages that included CRH; urotensin I/urocortin (Ucn), Ucn2 and Ucn3. In addition, taxon-specific genome duplications led to further local divergences in CRH ligands and receptors. Functionally, the CRH ligand–receptor system evolved initially as a molecular system to integrate early diuresis and nutrient acquisition. As multicellular organisms evolved into more complex forms, this ligand–receptor system became integrated with the organismal stress response to coordinate homoeostatic challenges with internal energy usage. In vertebrates, CRH and the CRH1 receptor became associated with the hypothalamo-pituitary–adrenal/interrenal axis and the initial stress response, whereas the CRH2 receptor was selected to play a greater role in diuresis, nutrient acquisition and the latter aspects of the stress response.