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D Whitehead and DA Carter

Activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during stress is associated with increased expression of genes that code for regulatory hormones such as corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) and ACTH. The identity of the transcription factors that mediate these changes in gene expression is not known. In the present study we have investigated the expression of the cAMP response-element binding protein (CREB) in mouse pituitary, and its regulation during a pharmacological paradigm that simulates activation of the CRF-ACTH axis. Using Western blots and DNA binding assays we have shown that both CREB protein (43 kDa) and CRE binding exhibit a readily-detectable basal level of activity in the pituitary. Following treatment with the 11 beta-hydroxylase inhibitor metyrapone, CRE binding activity was increased at 1 and 2 h but levels of CREB protein were not found to be consistently elevated. However, using a Ser133 phosphopeptide-specific antibody, that detects the functionally important phosphorylated form of CREB (P-CREB), we have shown that levels of pituitary P-CREB are markedly elevated following metyrapone. The same antibody was also used in DNA binding assays, and in the presence of this antiserum CRE binding activity in samples extracted from metyrapone-treated animals was reduced to levels similar to controls. Parallel experiments have confirmed previous studies showing increases in c-Fos expression and AP-1 DNA binding activity following metyrapone treatment but we have shown that c-Fos-associated binding activity does not appear to contribute to the increase in activity detected using the CRE binding probe. Our evidence of functionally relevant changes in pituitary CREB activity following glucocorticoid depletion must be viewed in the context of numerous other novel pituitary transcription factors that are implicated in HPA regulation, but our use of mice as an experimental model has facilitated the use of novel mouse mutants that can be used to dissect the role of individual factors.

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L-J Chew, V Seah, D Murphy, and D Carter


It is well established that oestrogens can stimulate prolactin (PRL) secretion as well as the expression of the vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) gene whose product is also a potent PRL secretagogue. Previous evidence has supported both an autocrine and a paracrine role for pituitary VIP in PRL release in vitro; however, the cellular origin of VIP in pituitary tissue still remains poorly defined. In these studies, we have demonstrated by in situ hybridisation that VIP RNA is detected in the anterior pituitaries of chronically hyperoestrogenised rats, but not in those of untreated animals. Using a double-probe labelling procedure, VIP RNA has been shown to be present in a subpopulation of PRL-producing cells, while colocalisation of VIP and GH RNA was not observed. VIP gene expression in the rat anterior pituitary gland was characterised by the presence of two alternatively polyadenylated transcripts, 1·7 kb and 1·0 kb in size. We have generated a probe specific for the 1·7 kb transcript and double-labelling studies also showed definitive colocalisation with PRL mRNA. Our results demonstrating the presence of VIP RNA in PRL-producing cells thus suggest that VIP may play an autocrine role in PRL hypersecretion under conditions of oestrogen-induced hyperplasia.

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J S Davies, J L Holter, D Knight, S M Beaucourt, D Murphy, D A Carter, and T Wells

Targeted overexpression of biologically active peptides represents a powerful approach to the functional dissection of neuroendocrine systems. However, the requirement to generate separate, biologically active and reporter molecules necessitates the use of internal ribosome entry site (IRES) technology, which often results in preferential translation of the second cistron. We report here a novel approach in which the proteolytic processing machinery of the regulated secretory pathway (RSP) has been exploited to generate multiple mature proteins from a monocistronic construct that encodes a single precursor. This was achieved by duplication of the pre-pro cleavage sites in pre-prosomatostatin cDNA. The duplicated site included 10 flanking amino acids on either side of the Gly-Ala cleavage position. This enabled the incorporation of a foreign protein-coding sequence (in this case, enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP)) between these sites. The pre-eGFP-prosomatostatin (PEPS) construct generated co-localized expression of fully processed eGFP and somatostatin to the RSP of transiently transfected AtT20 cells. This approach represents an advance upon bicistronic and other extant approaches to the targeting of multiple, biologically active proteins to neuroendocrine systems, and, importantly, permits the co-expression of fluorescent markers with biologically active neuropeptides. In this study, our demonstration of the fusion of the first 10 amino acids of the prosomatostatin sequence to the N-terminus of eGFP shows that this putative sorting sequence is sufficient to direct expression to the RSP.