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T Vanttinen, J Liu, T Kuulasmaa, P Kivinen and R Voutilainen

Activins and inhibins are structurally related glycoprotein hormones modulating pituitary FSH secretion and gonadal steroidogenesis. Activins and inhibins are also produced in the adrenal cortex where their physiological role is poorly known. Hormonally active human adrenocortical tumors express and secrete inhibins, while in mice adrenal inhibins may function as tumor suppressors. To clarify the significance of adrenal activins and inhibins we investigated the localization of activin/inhibin signaling components in the adrenal gland, and the effects of activins and inhibins on adrenocortical steroidogenesis and apoptosis.Activin receptor type II/IIB and IB, activin signal transduction proteins Smad2/3, and inhibin receptor betaglycan were expressed throughout the adrenal cortex, whereas Smad4 expression was seen mainly in the zona reticularis and the innermost zona fasciculata as evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Treatment of cultured adrenocortical carcinoma NCI-H295R cells with activin A inhibited steroidogenic acute regulatory protein and 17alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase mRNA accumulation as evaluated by the Northern blot technique, and decreased cortisol, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate secretion as determined by specific enzyme immunoassays. Activin A increased apoptosis as measured by a terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase in situ apoptosis detection method. Inhibins had no effect on steroidogenesis or apoptosis.In summary, activin/inhibin signaling components are coexpressed in the zona reticularis and the innermost zona fasciculata indicating full signaling potential for adrenal activins and inhibins in these layers. Activin inhibits steroidogenic enzyme gene expression and steroid secretion, and increases apoptosis in human adrenocortical cells. Thus, the activin-inhibin system may have a significant role in the regulation of glucocorticoid and androgen production and apoptotic cell death in the human adrenal cortex.

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RJ Farrell and D Kelleher

Glucocorticoids are potent inhibitors of T cell activation and proinflammatory cytokines and are highly effective treatment for active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, failure to respond, acutely or chronically, to glucocorticoid therapy is a common indication for surgery in IBD, with as many as 50% of patients with Crohn's disease (CD) and approximately 20% of patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) requiring surgery in their lifetime as a result of poor response to glucocorticoids. Studies report that approximately one-third of patients with CD are steroid dependent and one-fifth are steroid resistant while approximately one-quarter of patients with UC are steroid dependent and one-sixth are steroid resistant. While the molecular basis of glucocorticoid resistance has been widely assessed in other inflammatory conditions, the pathophysiology of the glucocorticoid resistance in IBD is poorly understood. Research in IBD suggests that the phenomenon of glucocorticoid resistance is compartmentalised to T-lymphocytes and possibly other target inflammatory cells. This review focuses on three key molecular mechanisms of glucocorticoid resistance in IBD: (i) decreased cytoplasmic glucocorticoid concentration secondary to increased P-glycoprotein-mediated efflux of glucocorticoid from target cells due to overexpression of the multidrug resistance gene (MDR1); (ii) impaired glucocorticoid signaling because of dysfunction at the level of the glucocorticoid receptor; and (iii) constitutive epithelial activation of proinflammatory mediators, including nuclear factor kappa B, resulting in inhibition of glucocorticoid receptor transcriptional activity. In addition, the impact of disease heterogeneity on glucocorticoid responsiveness and recent advances in IBD pharmacogenetics are discussed.

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Incubation of DCA with minced adrenal tissue resulted in an increase of gluco-corticoid activity. The conversion percentage was about 12·5 %, when the inherent small gluco-corticoid activity of DCA was allowed for. Boiling the adrenal mince inactivated the enzyme responsible. The addition of ascorbic acid had no effect on the conversion reaction.

The incubation of cortisone acetate with adrenal mince led to no alteration in its gluco-corticoid activity.

The incubation of DCA with minced corpus luteum tissue also resulted in an increase of gluco-corticoid activity, but the conversion percentage was only 25 % of that of the adrenal. Incubation with other tissues or plasma showed no significant change.

Biological tests on extracts of fresh non-incubated corpora lutea and placenta revealed no gluco-corticoid activity.

The combined administration of ascorbic acid and DCA to fasted adrenalectomized mice showed no enhancement in glycogen deposition.

The incubation of cholesterol with adrenal tissue did not result in an increase of gluco-corticoid activity.

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D W Ray

Both generalised and tissue-specific glucocorticoid resistance is increasingly being recognised. In one study, 1–2% of patients evaluated for adrenal disorders were glucocorticoid-resistant (Werner et al. 1992). At the molecular level, resistance to glucocorticoids is usually defined using specific markers. Some cells, such as lymphocytes, exhibit a very clear phenotypic change in response to glucocorticoids, enabling this to be used as a marker of glucocorticoid action (Kaspers et al. 1994). In most cells, however, changes in target gene expression are used. Either endogenous or transfected genes can be used; however, endogenous genes are often subject to tissuespecific regulation, and measurement of the steady-state mRNA level is an insensitive measure of glucocorticoid action. Transfection of short, carefully defined sequences of glucocorticoid-regulated DNA linked to a suitable reporter gene (Fig. 1) enables small differences in the EC50 and Vmax values of glucocorticoid action to be confidently measured (Ray et al. 1994b). Typically, positively

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AI Turner, BJ Canny, RJ Hobbs, JD Bond, IJ Clarke and AJ Tilbrook

There are sex differences in the response to stress and in the influence of stress on reproduction which may be due to gonadal steroids but the nature of these differences and the role of the gonads are not understood. We tested the hypotheses that sex and the presence/absence of gonads (gonadal status) will influence the cortisol response to injection of ACTH, insulin-induced hypoglycaemia and isolation/restraint stress, and that sex and gonadal status will influence the secretion of LH in response to isolation/restraint stress. Four groups of sheep were used in each of three experiments: gonad-intact rams, gonadectomised rams, gonad-intact ewes in the mid-luteal phase of the oestrous cycle and gonadectomised ewes. In Experiment 1 (n=4/group), jugular blood samples were collected every 10 min for 6 h; after 3 h, two animals in each group were injected (i.v.) with ACTH and the remaining two animals were injected (i.v.) with saline. Treatments were reversed 5 days later so that every animal received both treatments. Experiment 2 (n=4/group) used a similar schedule except that insulin was injected (i.v.) instead of ACTH. In Experiment 3 (n=5/group), blood samples were collected every 10 min for 16 h on a control day and again 2 weeks later when, after 8 h of sampling, all sheep were isolated and restrained for 8 h. Plasma cortisol was significantly (P<0.05) elevated following injection of ACTH or insulin and during isolation/restraint stress. There were no significant differences between the sexes in the cortisol response to ACTH. Rams had a greater (P<0.05) cortisol response to insulin-induced hypoglycaemia than ewes while ewes had a greater (P<0.05) cortisol response to isolation/restraint stress than rams. There was no effect of gonadal status on these parameters. Plasma LH was suppressed (P<0.05) in gonadectomised animals during isolation/restraint stress but was not affected in gonad-intact animals, and there were no differences between the sexes. Our results show that the sex that has the greater cortisol response to a stressor depends on the stressor imposed and that these sex differences are likely to be at the level of the hypothalamo-pituitary unit rather than at the adrenal gland. Since there was a sex difference in the cortisol response to isolation/restraint, the lack of a sex difference in the response of LH to this stress suggests that glucocorticoids are unlikely to be a major mediator of the stress-induced suppression of LH secretion.

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Ronald J van der Sluis, Miranda Van Eck and Menno Hoekstra

Over 50% of the cholesterol needed by adrenocortical cells for the production of glucocorticoids is derived from lipoproteins. However, the overall contribution of the different lipoproteins and associated uptake pathways to steroidogenesis remains to be determined. Here we aimed to show the importance of LDL receptor (LDLR)-mediated cholesterol acquisition for adrenal steroidogenesis in vivo. Female total body LDLR knockout mice with a human-like lipoprotein profile were bilaterally adrenalectomized and subsequently provided with one adrenal either expressing or genetically lacking the LDLR under their renal capsule to solely modulate adrenocortical LDLR function. Plasma total cholesterol levels and basal plasma corticosterone levels were identical in the two types of adrenal transplanted mice. Strikingly, restoration of adrenal LDLR function significantly reduced the ACTH-mediated stimulation of adrenal steroidogenesis (P<0.001), with plasma corticosterone levels that were respectively 44–59% lower (P<0.01) as compared to adrenal LDLR negative controls. In addition, LDLR positive adrenal transplanted mice exhibited a significant decrease (−39%; P<0.001) in their plasma corticosterone level under fasting stress conditions. Biochemical analysis did not show changes in the expression of genes involved in cholesterol mobilization. However, LDLR expressing adrenal transplants displayed a marked 62% reduction (P<0.05) in the transcript level of the key steroidogenic enzyme HSD3B2. In conclusion, our studies in a mouse model with a human-like lipoprotein profile provide the first in vivo evidence for a novel inhibitory role of the LDLR in the control of adrenal glucocorticoid production.

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Francesca Spiga, Jamie J Walker, Rita Gupta, John R Terry and Stafford L Lightman

A pulsatile pattern of secretion is a characteristic of many hormonal systems, including the glucocorticoid-producing hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. Despite recent evidence supporting its importance for behavioral, neuroendocrine and transcriptional effects of glucocorticoids, there has been a paucity of information regarding the origin of glucocorticoid pulsatility. In this review we discuss the mechanisms regulating pulsatile dynamics of the HPA axis, and how these dynamics become disrupted in disease. Our recent mathematical, experimental and clinical studies show that glucocorticoid pulsatility can be generated and maintained by dynamic processes at the level of the pituitary–adrenal axis, and that an intra-adrenal negative feedback may contribute to these dynamics.

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J Miao, K-W Chan, G G Chen, S-Y Chun, N-S Xia, J Y H Chan and N S Panesar

Conversion of cholesterol to biologically active steroids is a multi-step enzymatic process. Along with some important enzymes, like cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (P450scc) and 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/isomerase (3β-HSD), several proteins play key role in steroidogenesis. The role of steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein is well established. A novel protein, BRE, found mainly in brain, adrenals and gonads, was highly expressed in hyperplastic rat adrenals with impaired steroidogenesis, suggesting its regulation by pituitary hormones. To further elucidate its role in steroidogenic tissues, mouse Leydig tumor cells (mLTC-1) were transfected with BRE antisense probes. Morphologically the BRE antisense cells exhibited large cytoplasmic lipid droplets and failed to shrink in response to human chorionic gonadotropin. Although cAMP production, along with StAR and P450scc mRNA expression, was unaffected in BRE antisense clones, progesterone and testosterone yields were significantly decreased, while pregnenolone was increased in response to human chorionic gonadotropin stimulation or in the presence of 22(R)OH-cholesterol. Furthermore, whereas exogenous progesterone was readily converted to testosterone, pregnenolone was not, suggesting impairment of pregnenolone-to-progesterone conversion, a step metabolized by 3β-HSD. That steroidogenesis was compromised at the 3β-HSD step was further confirmed by the reduced expression of 3β-HSD type I (3ß-HSDI) mRNA in BRE antisense cells compared with controls. Our results suggest that BRE influences steroidogenesis through its effects on 3β-HSD action, probably affecting its transcription.

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T Takeda, H Kurachi, T Yamamoto, Y Nishio, Y Nakatsuji, K Morishige, A Miyake and Y Murata

Cytokines and steroid hormones use different sets of signal transduction pathways, which seem to be unrelated. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) uses JAK tyrosine kinase and STAT (signal transducer and activator of transcription) transcription factor. Glucocorticoid binds glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which is a member of the steroid receptor superfamily. We have studied the crosstalk between the IL-6-JAK-STAT and glucocorticoid-nuclear receptor pathways. IL-6 and glucocorticoid synergistically activated the IL-6 response element on the rat alpha2-macroglobulin promoter (APRE)-driven luciferase gene. The exogenous expression of GR enhanced the synergism. The exogenous expression of dominant negative STAT3 completely abolished the IL-6 plus glucocorticoid-induced activation of the APRE-luciferase gene. Tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT3 stimulated by IL-6 alone was not different from that by IL-6 plus glucocorticoid. The protein level of STAT3 was also not increased by glucocorticoid stimulation. The time course of STAT3 tyrosine phosphorylation by IL-6 plus glucocorticoid was not different from that by IL-6 alone. The synergism was studied on the two other IL-6 response elements, the junB promoter (JRE-IL-6) and the interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1) promoter (IRF-GAS) which could be activated by STAT3. The synergistic activation by glucocorticoid on the IL-6-activated JRE-IL-6 and the IRF-GAS-driven luciferase gene was not detected. Glucocorticoid did not change the mobility of IL-6-induced APRE-binding proteins in a gel shift assay. These results suggest that the synergism was through the GR and STAT3, and the coactivation pathway which was specific for APRE was the target of glucocorticoid.

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SG Shelat, LM Flanagan-Cato and SJ Fluharty

Mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and angiotensin II (AngII) act cooperatively to maintain body fluid homeostasis. Mineralocorticoids, such as aldosterone and deoxycorticosterone-acetate (DOCA), function synergistically with AngII in the brain to increase salt appetite and blood pressure. In addition, glucocorticoids increase AngII-induced drinking and pressor responses and may also facilitate the actions of aldosterone on salt appetite. The AngII Type 1 (AT1) receptor mediates many of the physiological and behavioral actions of AngII. This receptor is coupled to the G-protein Gq, which mediates AngII-induced inositol triphosphate (IP3) formation. The WB cell line, a liver epithelial cell line that expresses the AT1 receptor, was used to examine the cellular basis of glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid regulation of AT1 function. In this study corticosterone and dexamethasone treatments increased the number of AT1 receptors by activating the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). This increase in AT1 binding resulted in enhanced AngII-stimulated IP3 formation. However, only supraphysiological doses of aldosterone or DOCA increased AT1 binding, and this effect also was mediated by GR activation. Furthermore, despite evidence that mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids function together to increase AngII-stimulated actions in vivo, aldosterone and dexamethasone did not act synergistically to affect AT1 binding, Gq expression, or IP3 formation. These results indicate that GR activation, and the subsequent increases in AT1 binding and in AngII-stimulated IP3 formation, may represent a cellular mechanism underlying the synergy between adrenal steroids and AngII.