cAMP stimulation of rodent steroidogenic cells produces two StAR transcripts, a major 3.5 kb and a minor 1.6 kb mRNA, differing only in their 3′ untranslated regions (3′ UTR). They exhibit very different responses to stimulation and removal of 8-Br-cAMP, with the 3.5 kb form increasing and declining much more rapidly than the 1.6 kb form. The 3′ end of the 3.5 kb StAR mRNA contains three conserved AU-rich element (AURE) motifs that mediate fast mRNA turnover in over 900 genes in the human genome. In this paper, we explore post-transcriptional regulation in steroidogenic and non-steroidogenic cells using expression vectors containing StAR or luciferase with different StAR 3′ UTRs. We show that the basal steady-state levels of StAR or luciferase protein and mRNA are five to eight times lower with the 3′ UTR of 3.5 kb StAR compared with that of the 1.6 kb 3′ UTR. Examination of transcript stability by direct mRNA transfection showed only a 1.5-fold increase in the rate of cytoplasmic decay of the 3.5 kb mRNA relative to the 1.6 kb mRNA. However, the long 3′ UTR caused a fivefold decrease in the rate of appearance of mature cytoplasmic mRNA despite transcription from the same promoter. This is attributed to less efficient nuclear processing of immature transcripts prior to export to cytoplasm. Selective 3′ UTR sequence substitutions, deletions, and mutations showed that this loss of expression is produced additively by specific sequences in a 700-base basal instability region and by non-specific length effects. These mechanisms are selectively enhanced in steroidogenic cells. The AURE contribute a smaller basal destabilization effect selective for steroidogenic cells that is removed by their mutations. Inclusion of introns in the 3.5 kb StAR vector enhances StAR expression, suggesting the effects of introns complexes on nuclear processing. Br-cAMP provides an additional means to rapidly modulate StAR expression independent of transcription by attenuating the nuclear and cytoplasmic instability mechanisms within the extended 3′ UTR.
Colin R Jefcoate and Jinwoo Lee
Cholesterol is an important regulator of cell signaling, both through direct impacts on cell membranes and through oxy-metabolites that activate specific receptors (steroids, hydroxy-cholesterols, bile acids). Cholesterol moves slowly through and between cell membranes with the assistance of specific binding proteins and transfer processes. The prototype cholesterol regulator is the Steroidogenesis Acute Regulatory (STAR), which moves cholesterol into mitochondria, where steroid synthesis is initiated by cytochrome P450 11A1 in multiple endocrine cell types. CYP27A1 generates hydroxyl cholesterol metabolites that activate LXR nuclear receptors to control cholesterol homeostatic and transport mechanisms. LXR regulation of cholesterol transport and storage as cholesterol ester droplets is shared by both steroid-producing cells and macrophage. This cholesterol signaling which is crucial to brain neuron regulation by astrocytes and microglial macrophage, is mediated by ApoE and is sensitive to disruption by β-amyloid plaques. sm-FISH delivers appreciable insights into signaling in single cells, by resolving single RNA molecules as mRNA and by quantifying pre-mRNA at gene loci. sm-FISH has been applied to problems in physiology, embryo development and cancer biology, where single cell features have critical impacts. sm-FISH identifies novel features of STAR transcription in adrenal and testis cells, including asymmetric expression at individual gene loci, delayed splicing and 1:1 association of mRNA with mitochondria. This may represent a functional unit for the translation-dependent cholesterol transfer directed by STAR, which integrates into mitochondrial fusion dynamics. Similar cholesterol dynamics repeat with different players in the cycling of cholesterol between astrocytes and neurons in the brain, which may be abnormal in neurodegenerative diseases.