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Yewei Xing, C Richard Parker, Michael Edwards and William E Rainey

The adrenal glands are the primary source of minerocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and the so-called adrenal androgens. Under physiological conditions, cortisol and adrenal androgen synthesis are controlled primarily by ACTH. Although it has been established that ACTH can stimulate steroidogenesis, the effects of ACTH on overall gene expression in human adrenal cells have not been established. In this study, we defined the effects of chronic ACTH treatment on global gene expression in primary cultures of both adult adrenal (AA) and fetal adrenal (FA) cells. Microarray analysis indicated that 48 h of ACTH treatment caused 30 AA genes and 84 FA genes to increase by greater than fourfold, with 20 genes common in both cell cultures. Among these genes were six encoding enzymes involved in steroid biosynthesis, the ACTH receptor and its accessory protein, melanocortin 2 receptor accessory protein (ACTH receptor accessory protein). Real-time quantitative PCR confirmed the eight most upregulated and one downregulated common genes between two cell types. These data provide a group of ACTH-regulated genes including many that have not been previously studied with regard to adrenal function. These genes represent candidates for regulation of adrenal differentiation and steroid hormone biosynthesis.

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Edson F Nogueira, Yewei Xing, Claudia A V Morris and William E Rainey

Aldosterone is principally synthesized in the zona glomerulosa of the adrenal by a series of enzymatic reactions leading to the conversion of cholesterol to aldosterone. Angiotensin II (Ang II) is the major physiological regulator of aldosterone production acting acutely to stimulate aldosterone biosynthesis and chronically to increase the capacity of the adrenals to produce aldosterone. We previously defined eight transcription factors that are rapidly induced following Ang II treatment using three in vitro adrenocortical cell models. Herein, we investigated the function of these transcription factors in the regulation of the enzymes needed for aldosterone production. H295R adrenal cells were co-transfected with expression vectors for each transcription factor and promoter/reporter constructs prepared for genes encoding the enzymes needed for aldosterone production. NGFI-B family members induced promoter activity of 3-beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase type 2 (HSD3B2), 21-hydroxylase (CYP21A2), and aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2). The importance of NGFI-B in the regulation of CYP11B2 was also demonstrated by reduced CYP11B2 transcription in the presence of a dominant-negative-NGFI-B. A pharmacological approach was used to characterize the Ang II pathways regulating transcription of NGFI-B family genes. Transcription of NGFI-B members were decreased following inhibition of Ang II type 1 receptor (AT1R), protein kinase C (PKC), calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinases (CaMK), and Src tyrosine kinase (SRC). Taken together, these results suggest that Ang II binding to the AT1R increases activity of PKC, CaMK, and SRC, which act to increase expression of the family of NGFI-B genes as well as CYP11B2. Ang II induction of the NGFI-B family members represents an important pathway to increase the capacity of adrenal cells to produce aldosterone.

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Kazutaka Nanba, Andrew X Chen, Adina F Turcu and William E Rainey

The H295R adrenocortical cell line is widely used for molecular analysis of adrenal functions but is known to have only modest ACTH responsiveness. The lack of ACTH response was linked to a low expression of its receptor, melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2R). We hypothesized that increasing the MC2R accessory protein (MRAP), which is required to traffic MC2R from the endoplasmic reticulum to the cell surface, would increase ACTH responsiveness. Lentiviral particles containing human MRAP-open reading frame were generated and transduced in H295R cells. Using antibiotic resistance, 18 clones were isolated for characterization. The most ACTH-responsive steroidogenic clone, H295RA, was used for further experiments. Successful induction of MRAP and increased expression of MC2R in H295RA cells was confirmed by quantitative real-time RT-PCR and protein analysis. Treatment with ACTH significantly increased aldosterone, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone production in H295RA cells. ACTH also significantly increased transcript levels for all of the steroidogenic enzymes required to produce aldosterone, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone, as well as MC2R mRNA. Using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry, we further revealed that the main unconjugated steroids produced in H295RA cells were 11-deoxycortisol, cortisol, and androstenedione. Treatment of H295RA cells with ACTH also acutely increased cAMP production and cellular protein levels for total and phosphorylated steroidogenic acute regulatory protein. In summary, through genetic manipulation, we have developed an ACTH-responsive human adrenocortical cell line. The cell line will provide a powerful in vitro tool for molecular analysis of physiologic and pathologic conditions involving the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.

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Edson F Nogueira, Claudia A Vargas, Mélissa Otis, Nicole Gallo-Payet, Wendy B Bollag and William E Rainey

Angiotensin-II (Ang-II) regulates adrenal steroid production and gene transcription through several signaling pathways. Changes in gene transcription occur within minutes after Ang-II stimulation, causing an increase in aldosterone production and subsequent increase in the overall capacity to produce aldosterone. Our goal was to compare the Ang-II regulation of early gene expression and confirm the up-regulation of selected genes using quantitative real-time RT-PCR (qPCR) across three species, such as, human, bovine, and rat. Microarray analyses were performed using samples from control and Ang-II (10 nM)-treated (1 h) cells from human adrenocortical tumor cell line H295R, and primary adrenal glomerulosa cells from bovine and rat, applied respectively to human, bovine, and rat chips. qPCR was performed to confirm up-regulation of selected genes using mRNA. The microarray comparison revealed 18% similarity among the top 50 up-regulated genes, with human/rat, 20%; human/bovine, 36%; and rat/bovine, 26% similarity. The gene list generated by this comparison included: activating transcription factor 3, B-cell translocation gene (BTG2), Nuclear receptor subfamily 4, group A, member 1 (NR4A1), NR4A2, NR4A3, early growth response 1, v-fos FBJ murine osteosarcoma viral oncogene homolog (c-FOS), FOSB, and Jun family member B (JUNB). Pretreatment of H295R cells with cycloheximide had no effect on Ang-II induction of these genes, suggesting that they are direct targets of Ang-II signaling. The Ang-II gene targets have been defined in three different adrenocortical model systems. Several of the listed genes have previously been described as being key regulators of adrenocortical function. The presence of adrenal cell common genes in such distinct cell models strengthens the hypothesis that these genes are regulators of aldosterone production.

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Namita G Hattangady, Shigehiro Karashima, Lucy Yuan, Daniela Ponce-Balbuena, José Jalife, Celso E Gomez-Sanchez, Richard J Auchus, William E Rainey and Tobias Else

Somatic and germline mutations in the inward-rectifying K+ channel (KCNJ5) are a common cause of primary aldosteronism (PA) in aldosterone-producing adenoma and familial hyperaldosteronism type III, respectively. Dysregulation of adrenal cell calcium signaling represents one mechanism for mutated KCNJ5 stimulation of aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) expression and aldosterone production. However, the mechanisms stimulating acute and chronic production of aldosterone by mutant KCNJ5 have not been fully characterized. Herein, we defined the effects of the T158A KCNJ5 mutation (KCNJ5T158A) on acute and chronic regulation of aldosterone production using an adrenal cell line with a doxycycline-inducible KCNJ5T158A gene (HAC15-TRE-KCNJ5T158A). Doxycycline incubation caused a time-dependent increase in KCNJ5T158A and CYP11B2 mRNA and protein levels. Electrophysiological analyses confirm the loss of inward rectification and increased Na+ permeability in KCNJ5T158A-expressing cells. KCNJ5T158A expression also led to the activation of CYP11B2 transcriptional regulators, NURR1 and ATF2. Acutely, KCNJ5T158A stimulated the expression of total and phosphorylated steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). KCNJ5T158A expression increased the synthesis of aldosterone and the hybrid steroids 18-hydroxycortisol and 18-oxocortisol, measured with liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). All of these stimulatory effects of KCNJ5T158A were inhibited by the L-type Ca2+ channel blocker, verapamil. Overall, KCNJ5T158Aincreases CYP11B2 expression and production of aldosterone, corticosterone and hybrid steroids by upregulating both acute and chronic regulatory events in aldosterone production, and verapamil blocks KCNJ5T158A-mediated pathways leading to aldosterone production.

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Akira Uruno, Ken Matsuda, Naoya Noguchi, Takeo Yoshikawa, Masataka Kudo, Fumitoshi Satoh, William E Rainey, Xiao-Gang Hui, Jun-ichi Akahira, Yasuhiro Nakamura, Hironobu Sasano, Hiroshi Okamoto, Sadayoshi Ito and Akira Sugawara

Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPARγ) is a nuclear receptor for the antidiabetic agent thiazolidinedione, which exerts various physiological activities, independent of lowering blood glucose. However, the role of PPARγ in aldosterone production has not been clarified. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of PPARγ on aldosterone synthase gene (CYP11B2) expression and aldosterone production. Localization of PPARγ expression in normal adrenal cortex was determined by immunohistochemistry. Aldosterone production and CYP11B2 expression levels were determined using human adrenocortical carcinoma H295R cells. Pioglitazone suppressed angiotensin II-induced aldosterone secretion and CYP11B2 expression. PPARγ was expressed in zona glomerulosa in human normal adrenal gland. PPARγ overexpression enhanced pioglitazone-mediated CYP11B2 transrepression. The pioglitazone-mediated suppression of aldosterone secretion and CYP11B2 expression were canceled by PPARγ L466A/E469A mutant. Pioglitazone also suppressed potassium-mediated CYP11B2 induction, but not N6-2′-O-dibutyladenosine-3′,5′-cyclic monophosphate stimulation. Rosiglitazone and GW1929 also suppressed CYP11B2 transactivation. Mutation analysis revealed that the Ad1/CRE element in CYP11B2 5′-flanking region was responsible for the pioglitazone-mediated transrepression. Pioglitazone suppressed ionomycin and a truncated constitutively active form Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase I (CaMKI)-mediated CYP11B2 transcriptional activation. A CaMK inhibitor KN-93 attenuated pioglitazone-mediated CYP11B2 transrepression. PPARγ suppresses CYP11B2 expression and aldosterone secretion.

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Saulo J A Felizola, Yasuhiro Nakamura, Yoshikiyo Ono, Kanako Kitamura, Kumi Kikuchi, Yoshiaki Onodera, Kazue Ise, Kei Takase, Akira Sugawara, Namita Hattangady, William E Rainey, Fumitoshi Satoh and Hironobu Sasano

Purkinje cell protein 4 (PCP4) is a calmodulin (CaM)-binding protein that accelerates calcium association and dissociation with CaM. It has been previously detected in aldosterone-producing adenomas (APA), but details on its expression and function in adrenocortical tissues have remained unknown. Therefore, we performed the immunohistochemical analysis of PCP4 in the following tissues: normal adrenal (NA; n=15), APA (n=15), cortisol-producing adenomas (n=15), and idiopathic hyperaldosteronism cases (IHA; n=5). APA samples (n=45) were also submitted to quantitative RT-PCR of PCP4, CYP11B1, and CYP11B2, as well as DNA sequencing for KCNJ5 mutations. Transient transfection analysis using PCP4 siRNA was also performed in H295R adrenocortical carcinoma cells, following ELISA analysis, and CYP11B2 luciferase assays were also performed after PCP4 vector transfection in order to study the regulation of PCP4 protein expression. In our findings, PCP4 immunoreactivity was predominantly detected in APA and in the zona glomerulosa of NA and IHA. In APA, the mRNA levels of PCP4 were significantly correlated with those of CYP11B2 (P<0.0001) and were significantly higher in cases with KCNJ5 mutation than WT (P=0.005). Following PCP4 vector transfection, CYP11B2 luciferase reporter activity was significantly higher than controls in the presence of angiotensin-II. Knockdown of PCP4 resulted in a significant decrease in CYP11B2 mRNA levels (P=0.012) and aldosterone production (P=0.011). Our results indicate that PCP4 is a regulator of aldosterone production in normal, hyperplastic, and neoplastic human adrenocortical cells.