The involvement of the calcium messenger system in the control of steroidogenesis in the rat and bovine adrenal cortex has been studied extensively. However the role of these second messengers in the control of human adrenocortical function is not established. This was therefore studied by incubating collagenase-dispersed human adrenocortical cells with the calcium ionophore A23187 and the protein kinase C activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (TPA). The effects of the calcium channel blocker verapamil on basal and stimulated steroidogenesis were also studied.
Both TPA (1 pmol/l–10 μmol/l) and A23187 (1 nmol/l–10 μmol/l) caused a dose-dependent increase in cortisol, aldosterone and corticosterone production. Verapamil (10 μmol/l) inhibited the increase in aldosterone, corticosterone and cortisol produced in response to ACTH(1–24), potassium, and desacetyl-αMSH. Unlike previous results in the rat, these effects were not specific for aldosterone secretion.
The results suggest that, as in other species, calcium mobilization and protein kinase C activation have a role in the control of steroidogenesis in the human adrenal cortex. However, in contrast to the rat, these mechanisms appear to be involved in the control of steroidogenesis in both the zona glomerulosa and inner zone cells.
When rat adrenal whole capsules, containing the zona glomerulosa, were incubated, addition of the protein kinase C inhibitors TMB-8 (10 μmol/l), W7, H7, polymyxin-B and sphingosine (all 1 μmol/l) was found to inhibit the steroidogenic response to trypsin. Aldosterone and 18-hydroxycorticosterone were strongly, and corticosterone moderately, affected, while the production of 18-hydroxydeoxycorticosterone was neither stimulated by trypsin nor inhibited by the protein kinase C inhibitors. Addition of neomycin, which prevents substrate interaction with phospholipase C, also inhibited the response to trypsin, while addition of phospholipase C itself stimulated aldosterone, 18-hydroxycorticosterone and corticosterone production with the same tissue sensitivity as trypsin. Addition of phospholipase A2 had no effect. Direct assay of protein kinase C activity showed that trypsin stimulation effected the translocation of Ca2+/phospholipid-activated protein kinase C from the cytosolic to the membrane fraction. When glomerulosa tissue was incubated with [32P]ATP, and cytosolic proteins were subjected to isoelectric focusing on polyacrylimide gels, autoradiography showed that incorporation of 32P into several protein components was increased by trypsin stimulation.
It was concluded that trypsin exerts its stimulatory effects on steroidogenesis by activating protein kinase C; not, however, by generating the Ca2+/phospholipid-independent fragment, but possibly by enhancing the activity of phospholipase C.