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C B Whorwood and P M Stewart


Corticosteroid regulation of Na/K-ATPase is of key importance in the modulation of Na+ transport across renal tubular epithelia. In amphibian renal cells, aldosterone induction of Na/K-ATPase α1 and β1 subunit gene transcription is mediated by an indirect mechanism dependent on the synthesis of a labile protein. In mammalian target cells, while both mineralo- and glucocorticoids increase the levels of Na/K-ATPase α1 and β1 subunit mRNA and enzyme activity, they are diminished by glycyrrhetinic acid (GE), the active ingredient of licorice.

To investigate the mechanisms underlying the regulation of mammalian renal Na/K-ATPase, levels of α1 and β1 mRNA were measured in rat kidney epithelial (NRK-52E) cells treated with a range of concentrations of aldosterone, corticosterone and GE in the presence of a specific inhibitor of mRNA synthesis, dichlororibofuranosylbenzimidazole (DRB), an inhibitor of total RNA synthesis, actinomycin D (ActD), and the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide (CHX). In addition, GE was co-incubated with the sodium channel antagonist benzamiloride (BZ). The increase in both α1 and β1 mRNA levels following aldosterone and corticosterone was completely abolished by treatment with ActD and DRB, while CHX did not affect this response. Similarly, the GE-induced decrease in α1 and β1 mRNA was also completely abolished by ActD and DRB, but not by CHX or by BZ. The half-lives of α1 and β1 mRNA in these cells (means±s.e.m., n=4), estimated from the rate of mRNA decay in the presence of DRB, were 6·8±0·3 and 4·8±0·2 h respectively. This was unaffected by GE.

The inhibitory action of GE on α1 and β1 mRNA levels was accompanied by a dose-dependent decrease in levels of intracellular cAMP (means ± s.e.m., n=4) from 395±28 fmol cAMP/μg total cell protein to between 275 ± 19 fmol/μg total cell protein (0·1 μm GE) and 78±11 fmol/μg total cell protein (10 μm GE). This was abolished following down-regulation of protein kinase C by prolonged treatment with the phorbol ester tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), and by pertussis toxin (PT), but not by cholera toxin (CT). Indeed, subunit mRNA levels were increased by 8-bromo-cAMP (2·2-fold) and stimulators of adenylate cyclase activity, i.e. forskolin (2·1-fold), PT (2·1-fold) and CT (1·9-fold), but not by TPA. In keeping with their effects on GE inhibition of cAMP synthesis, TPA and PT (but not CT) abolished the GE-induced decrease in subunit mRNA.

In conclusion, corticosteroid induction and GE inhibition of Na/K-ATPase subunit gene expression in rat kidney epithelial cells occur at the transcriptional level and do not require de novo synthesis of an intermediary protein. Furthermore, GE attenuation of subunit gene transcription may be mediated by both cAMP-dependent protein kinase A and diacylglycerol—protein kinase C pathways via interaction with a PT-sensitive Gi protein.

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C Stewart, N A Taylor, K Docherty, and C J Bailey


The feasibility of somatic cell gene therapy as a method of insulin delivery has been studied in mice. Murine pituitary AtT20 cells were transfected with a human preproinsulin DNA in a plasmid containing a metallothionein promoter and a gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic G418. The AtT20MtIns-1·4 clone of cells was selected because of its higher insulin-releasing activity compared with other clones. After culturing for 24 h in Dulbecco's medium containing 10 mM glucose, the AtT20MtIns-1·4 cells released human insulin at about 5 ng/106 cells per 24 h. Insulin release was not significantly altered by raised concentrations of glucose, potassium or calcium, but insulin release was increased by 20 mm arginine, 5 mm isomethylbutylxanthine and 90 μm zinc.

AtT20MtIns-1·4 cells (2 × 106) were implanted intraperitoneally into non-diabetic athymic nude (nu/nu) mice, and the mice were made diabetic by injection of streptozotocin after 7 days. Release of human insulin in vivo was assessed using a specific plasma human C-peptide assay. Human C-peptide concentrations were maintained at about 01 pmol/ml throughout the 29 days of the study. The development of streptozotocin-induced hyperglycaemia was delayed in recipients of the cells releasing human insulin, compared with a control group receiving an implant of non-transfected cells. At autopsy the implanted AtT20MtIns-1·4 cells in each recipient had formed a tumour-like aggregation, with an outer region of insulin-containing cells. The study suggests that somatic cell gene therapy offers a feasible approach to insulin delivery.

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M Shimojo, C B Whorwood, and P M Stewart


11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD) catalyses the interconversion of biologically active cortisol to inactive cortisone in man, and corticosterone to 11-dehydrocorticosterone in rodents. As such, this enzyme has been shown to confer aldosterone-selectivity on the mineralocorticoid receptor and to modulate cortisol/corticosterone access to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). Two kinetically distinct isoforms of this enzyme have been characterized in both rodents and man; a low-affinity NADP(H)-dependent enzyme (11β-HSD1) which predominantly acts as an oxo-reductase and, more recently, a high-affinity NAD-dependent uni-directional dehydrogenase (11β-HSD2). In this study we have analysed the expression of both 11β-HSD1 and 11β-HSD2 isoforms in rat adrenal cortex and medulla and have investigated their possible roles with respect to glucocorticoid-regulated enzymes mediating catecholamine biosynthesis in adrenal medullary chromaffin cells.

Using a rat 11β-HSD1 probe and a recently cloned in-house mouse 11β-HSD2 cDNA probe, Northern blot analyses revealed expression of mRNA species encoding both 11β-HSD1 (1·4kb) and 11β-HSD2 (1·9kb) in the whole adrenal. Consistent with this, 11β-dehydrogenase activity (pmol 11-dehydrocorticosterone formed/mg protein per h, mean ± s.e.m.) in adrenal homogenates, when incubated with 50 nm corticosterone in the presence of 200 μm NAD, was 97·0 ± 9·0 and with 500 nm corticosterone in the presence of 200 μm NADP, was 98·0 ± 1·4 11-Oxoreductase activity (pmol corticosterone formed/mg protein per h) with 500 nm 11-dehydrocorticosterone in the presence of 200 μm NADPH, was 187·7 ± 31·2. In situ hybridization studies of rat adrenal cortex and medulla using 35S-labelled antisense 11β-HSD1 cRNA probe revealed specific localization of 11β-HSD1 mRNA expression predominantly to cells at the corticomedullary junction, most likely within the inner cortex. In contrast, 11β-HSD2 mRNA was more abundant in cortex versus medulla, and was more uniformly distributed over the adrenal gland. Negligible staining was detected using control sense probes.

Ingestion of the 11β-HSD inhibitor, glycyrrhizic acid (>100mg/kg body weight per day for 4 days) resulted in significant inhibition of adrenal NADP-dependent (98·0 ± 1·4 vs 42·5 ± 0·4) and NAD-dependent (97·0 ± 9·0 vs 73·2 ± 6·7) 11β-dehydrogenase activity and 11-oxoreductase activity (187·7 ± 31·2 vs 67·7 ± 15·3). However, while levels of 11β-HSD1 mRNA were similarly reduced (0·85 ± 0·07 vs 0·50 ± 0·05 arbitrary units), those for 11β-HSD2 remained unchanged (0·44 ± 0·03 vs 0·38 ± 0·01). Levels of mRNA encoding the glucocorticoid-dependent enzyme phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase which catalyses the conversion of noradrenaline to adrenaline, were also significantly reduced in those rats given glycyrrhizic acid (1·12 ± 0·04 vs 0·78 ± 0·04), while those for the glucocorticoid-independent enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (1·9 kb), which catalyses the conversion of tyrosine to DOPA, were unchanged (0·64 ± 0·04 vs 0·61 ± 0·04).

In conclusion, the rat adrenal gland expresses both 11β-HSD1 and 11β-HSD2 isoforms. 11β-HSDl gene expression is localized to the adrenal cortico-medullary junction, where it is ideally placed to regulate the supply of cortex-derived corticosterone to the medullary chromaffin cells. This, together with our in vivo studies, suggests that 11β-HSD1 may play an important role with respect to adrenocorticosteroid regulation of adrenaline biosynthesis. The role of 11β-HSD2 in the adrenal remains to be elucidated.

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Iwona J Bujalska, Nicole Draper, Zoi Michailidou, Jeremy W Tomlinson, Perrin C White, Karen E Chapman, Elizabeth A Walker, and Paul M Stewart

Two isozymes of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD) interconvert active cortisol and inactive cortisone. 11β-HSD2 (renal) acts only as a dehydrogenase, converting cortisol to cortisone. 11β-HSD1 (liver) is a bi-directional enzyme in cell homogenates, whereas in intact cells it typically displays oxo-reductase activity, generating cortisol from cortisone. We recently established that cortisone reductase deficiency is a digenic disease requiring mutations in both the gene encoding 11β-HSD1 and in the gene for a novel enzyme located within the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), hexose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (H6PDH). This latter enzyme generates NADPH, the co-factor required for oxo-reductase activity. Therefore, we hypothesized that H6PDH expression may be an important determinant of 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity. Transient transfection of chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells with 11β-HSD1 resulted in the appearance of both oxo-reductase and dehydrogenase activities in intact cells. Co-transfection of 11β-HSD1 with H6PDH increased oxo-reductase activity whilst virtually eliminating dehydrogenase activity. In contrast, H6PDH had no effect on reaction direction of 11β-HSD2, nor did the cytosolic enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) affect 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity. Conversely in HEK 293 cells stably transfected with 11β-HSD1 cDNA, transfection of an H6PDH siRNA reduced 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity whilst simultaneously increasing 11β-HSD1 dehydrogenase activity. In human omental preadipocytes obtained from 15 females of variable body mass index (BMI), H6PDH mRNA levels positively correlated with 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity, independent of 11β-HSD1 mRNA levels. H6PDH expression increased 5.3-fold across adipocyte differentiation (P<0.05) and was associated with a switch from 11β-HSD1 dehydrogenase to oxo-reductase activity. In conclusion, H6PDH is a crucial determinant of 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity in intact cells. Through its interaction with 11β-HSD1, H6PDH may represent a novel target in the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity.

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I J Bujalska, M Quinkler, J W Tomlinson, C T Montague, D M Smith, and P M Stewart

Obesity is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Although obesity is a multi-factorial heterogeneous condition, fat accumulation in visceral depots is most highly associated with these risks. Pathological glucocorticoid excess (i.e. in Cushing’s syndrome) is a recognised, reversible cause of visceral fat accumulation. The aim of this study was to identify depot-specific glucocorticoid-target genes in adipocyte precursor cells (preadipocytes) using Affymetrix microarray technique. Confluent preadipocytes from subcutaneous (SC) and omental (OM) adipose tissue collected from five female patients were treated for 24 h with 100 nM cortisol (F), RNA was pooled and hybridised to the Affymetrix U133 microarray set. We identified 72 upregulated and 30 downregulated genes by F in SC cells. In OM preadipocytes, 56 genes were increased and 19 were decreased. Among the most interesting were transcription factors, markers of adipocyte differentiation and glucose metabolism, cell adhesion and growth arrest protein factors involved in G-coupled and Wnt signalling. The Affymetrix data have been confirmed by quantitative real-time PCR for ten specific genes, including HSD11B1, GR, C/EBPα, C/EBPβ, IL-6, FABP4, APOD, IRS2, AGTR1 and GHR. One of the most upregulated genes in OM but not in SC cells was HSD11B1. The GR was similarly expressed and not regulated by glucocorticoids in SC and OM human preadipocytes. C/EBPα was expressed in SC preadipocytes and upregulated by F, but was below the detection level in OM cells. C/EBPβ was highly expressed both in SC and in OM preadipocytes, but was not regulated by F. Our results provide insight into the genes involved in the regulation of adipocyte differentiation by cortisol, highlighting the depot specifically in human adipose tissue.

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F Stewart, C A Power, S N Lennard, W R Allen, L Amet, and R M Edwards


The PCR technique and highly degenerate oligonucleotide primers were used to amplify a 282 bp fragment of the horse (Equus caballus) epidermal growth factor (EGF) cDNA. The clone corresponded to 94 amino acids of the EGF precursor molecule. The deduced amino acid sequence of the 53 residue EGF mitogenic peptide within the precursor sequence showed 60–70% identity with five other published EGF sequences. The PCR cDNA fragment hybridized to a 4·9 kb transcript in horse kidney and endometrial RNA which was of a similar size to the mature EGF transcript found in other mammalian species.

The horse cDNA clone was used in Northern blots to monitor EGF expression in the endometrium of pregnant mares up to day 83 of gestation (term=330–340 days). The level of expression increased from day 33 and showed a further dramatic increase between days 35 and 45, which coincides with the onset of implantation and placentation in this species. Levels remained elevated up to day 83. The horse DNA sequence was used to design sense and antisense oligonucleotide probes (45-mers) for in situ hybridization studies. The antisense probe showed specific hybridization to the glandular, but not lumenal, epithelial cells of the endometrium and there was no signal in fetal membranes. The in situ hybridization signal increased between days 35 and 45 to a similar degree to that observed in the Northern blot analysis. This dramatic increase in EGF expression in the glandular epithelium of the mare's endometrium during pregnancy may provide a mitogenic stimulus to the endometrium and/or trophoblast to facilitate placental differentiation and attachment. Alternatively, the precursor could be involved in the endometrial gland secretory process which is necessary to produce uterine milk for fetal sustenance.

The PCR cloning methods used in this study should be generally applicable to the cloning of EGF cDNAs from other species.

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K R Stevenson, P R Riley, H J Stewart, A P F Flint, and D C Wathes


A synthetic 45-mer oligonucleotide corresponding to part of the ovine endometrial oxytocin receptor cDNA was hybridized to sections of ovine uterus collected from 40 ewes at different stages during the oestrous cycle, the first 3 weeks of pregnancy and seasonal anoestrus. The quantity of oxytocin receptor mRNA was measured as the optical density (OD) value on autoradiographs using image analysis. Message first appeared in the luminal epithelium on days 14–15 of the cycle, increasing to a peak OD of 0·48 at oestrus and decreasing again between days 2 and 5. Oxytocin receptor mRNA in the superficial glands, deep glands and caruncular stroma increased between day 15 and oestrus to peak OD values of 0·17, 0·11 and 0·11 respectively, declining again by day 2 and reaching basal values (OD<0·015) by day 5. Hybridization to the myometrium tended to rise from a mean OD value of 0·01 on days 2–15 to a peak of 0·03±0·01 (mean±s.e.m.) on days 0–1, but the change was not significant. In pregnant ewes there was no detectable oxytocin receptor mRNA on days 14–15 in any region, but hybridization to the luminal epithelium was present in two of three ewes on day 21. In anoestrous ewes oxytocin receptor mRNA concentrations in all areas of the endometrium were approximately half those measured at oestrus.

Optical density readings for oxytocin receptor mRNA in the various uterine compartments were compared with measurements of oxytocin receptors in the same regions as assessed by binding studies using the 125I-labelled oxytocin antagonist d(CH2)5[Tyr(Me)2,Thr4,Tyr-NH2 9]-vasotocin (125I-labelled OTA). In the endometrium, receptor mRNA and 125I-labelled OTA binding patterns changed in parallel, and both sets of measurements were significantly correlated (P<0·01). In the myometrium, a significant increase in 125I-labelled OTA binding occurred at oestrus; this was not accompanied by a similar increase in oxytocin receptor mRNA hybridization.

This study helps to confirm that the previously identified cDNA clone is derived from the ovine oxytocin receptor, as patterns of oxytocin receptor mRNA expression in the endometrium closely resembled those of oxytocin binding. Maximum expression and binding both occurred at oestrus, suggesting that regulation of the oxytocin receptor gene in the uterus occurs principally at the transcriptional, rather than at the translational, level. Failure to detect a significant increase in myometrial mRNA expression at oestrus may indicate that the endometrial and myometrial oxytocin receptors are of different isoforms.