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  • Author: B. C. Williams x
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Biophysical Endocrinology Unit, Department of Physics as Applied to Medicine, Middlesex Hospital Medical School, London, W1P 6DB

(Received 6 February 1978)

Steroid secretion by the zona glomerulosa is extremely sensitive to changes in the extracellular concentration of potassium ions ([K+]). The manner in which a change in [K+] is transmitted to the steroidogenic mechanism is not known, but recent data have shown that the flux of 45Ca2+ is altered during such stimulation (Mackie, Warren & Simpson, 1978). More detailed information concerning ion and hormone dynamics during stimulation may be obtained from studies involving the superfusion of dispersed cells.

The 'centrifuge' procedure (Schulster & Jenner, 1975) could not be applied successfully to zona glomerulosa cells; during the first 15 min 50% of the cells were lost, with a subsequent loss of 10% of the original number of cells/h. Thus the alternative 'cell-column' procedure (Lowry & McMartin, 1974) was evaluated and two

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B R Walker, B C Williams and C R W Edwards


11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-OHSD) inactivates glucocorticoids and thereby modulates their access to both mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors. Since 11β-OHSD activity influences the biological responses of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, it might be regulated by components of this axis. We examined 11β-OHSD activity in adrenalectomized rats treated for 9 days with dexamethasone and with or without ACTH. Adrenalectomy and low-dose (2 μg/day) dexamethasone had no effect on 11β-OHSD activity in renal cortex, hippocampus or heart, and reduced enzyme activity in aorta. High-dose dexamethasone (50 μg/day) had no effect in renal cortex but increased enzyme activity by at least 50% in all other sites. This effect of dexamethasone was unaffected by the co-administration of ACTH. We also examined the metabolism of dexamethasone by 11β-OHSD in homogenized rat tissues. Only in kidney, in the presence of NAD rather than NADP, was dexamethasone converted to a more polar metabolite previously identified as 11-dehydrodexamethasone. We conclude that: dexamethasone induction of 11β-OHSD is tissue-specific, and includes vascular tissues and hippocampus but not kidney; this tissue-specificity may be explained by contrasting metabolism of dexamethasone by the isoforms of 11β-OHSD; fluctuations of glucocorticoid levels within the physiological range may not have a biologically significant effect on 11β-OHSD activity; and the inhibitory effect of ACTH, observed previously in humans, is likely to depend on the presence of intact adrenal glands.

Journal of Endocrinology (1994) 141, 467–472

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D. B. Jones, D. Marante, B. C. Williams and C. R. W. Edwards


The possible involvement of the lipoxygenase pathway of arachidonic acid metabolism in the events which take place during ACTH-induced stimulation of corticosterone secretion has been studied using an isolated rat adrenal cell system. Incubation with arachidonic acid resulted in an inhibition of ACTH-stimulated corticosterone production. The lipoxygenase pathway inhibitors nordihydroguaretic acid (NDGA), eicosatetraynoic acid (ETYA) and compound BW755C also produced inhibition of ACTH-stimulated corticosterone synthesis. The concentrations of the inhibitors at which 50% inhibition occurred were 15, 34 and 37 μmol/l respectively. The inhibitions produced by NDGA and ETYA were independent of cyclic AMP output. NDGA also inhibited corticosterone production induced by dibutyryl cyclic AMP but had no effect on corticosterone synthesis induced by pregnenolone.

Preincubation of adrenal cells with the lipoxygenase products 5, 12 and 15 hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (HETE) and with leukotrienes A4, B4, C4, D4 and E4 resulted in significant inhibitions of corticosterone production in response to ACTH with leukotriene A4 (LTA4) and with 15HETE and 5HETE. Conversely, incubation with glutathione (GSH), which is known to reduce intracellular LTA4 levels, produced stimulation (at 5 mmol GSH/1) and inhibition (at 50 mmol GSH/1) of corticosterone output. These studies suggest that the lipoxygenase pathway may be involved in ACTH-stimulated corticosterone synthesis.

J. Endocr. (1987) 112, 253–258

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E. Davies, S. Rossiter, C. R. W. Edwards and B. C. Williams


Serotoninergic control of aldosterone secretion in vivo was investigated in conscious rats with indwelling arterial cannulae. Serial blood samples were taken from the animals before and after i.p. administration of 1 ml (4 g/l) 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), the precursor of serotonin, or saline and they were analysed for 5-HTP, serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, plasma renin activity (PRA), corticosterone, aldosterone, sodium and potassium concentrations. The role of the renin-angiotensin system was investigated in animals pretreated for 1 week with the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor captopril (25 mg/day). 5-HTP caused a significant increase in all parameters within 45 min except for sodium and potassium. Saline administration showed no significant effect. Captopril pretreatment did not impair the increase in any parameter by 5-HTP, with the exception of the aldosterone response which was significantly attenuated, though not completely.

The results show that administration of 5-HTP, which increases serum serotonin levels, stimulates PRA, aldosterone and corticosterone secretion. Captopril pretreatment inhibits the aldosterone response, suggesting that the aldosterone stimulatory properties of 5-HTP require the presence of angiotensin II, although it is unclear whether it acts in a mediatory or permissive capacity. The failure of captopril to inhibit the aldosterone response completely suggests the involvement of other mechanisms such as the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal axis or a direct action of serotonin on the adrenal.

Journal of Endocrinology (1991) 130, 347–355

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I. M. Bird, C. D. Clyne, E. R. T. Lightly, B. C. Williams and S. W. Walker


When bovine adrenocortical cells from the zona fasciculata/reticularis (zfr) are maintained in primary culture, cortisol secretion in response to acute stimulation with ACTH and adrenaline (which activate adenylate cyclase) is seen to increase steadily over the first 48 h, while secretion in response to angiotensin II and acetylcholine (which activate phosphoinositidase C) shows an initial decline in the first 24 h and a recovery to maximum after 48 h. We have investigated whether these discrepant changes in cortisol secretory response to the different agonists are due to changes in formation of the associated second messengers (cAMP or inositol phosphates), or altered coupling of these second messenger signals to steroid secretion.

Increases in steroid secretion in response to ACTH and adrenaline were paralleled by increased cAMP. Steroid secretion in response to exogenous 8-bromoadenosine 3′:5′-cyclic monophosphate also increased steadily during this 48-h period. Thus increased responsiveness was due to both increased second messenger formation and increased coupling to the steroid secretory response.

The decreased steroid secretory response to angiotensin and acetylcholine after 24 h, and subsequent recovery after 48 h in culture, were accompanied by an increased formation of phosphoinositols after 24 h and a further increase by 48 h. However, the steroid secretory response to a combination of calcium ionophore and the protein kinase C activator, phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate, was reduced after 24 h and recovered by 48 h of culture. Fura-2-loaded cells also showed an increase in intracellular [Ca2+] after 24 h in culture. Thus the impaired steroid secretory response to angiotensin II and acetylcholine after 24 h of culture was not due to reduced formation of second messengers but to a failure of Ca2+ and diacylglycerol so formed to activate the steroid secretory process.

Reversible uncoupling of the steroid secretory response from the Ca2+- and diacylglycerol-based but not the cAMP-based second messengers observed in bovine zfr cells suggests that differential control of steroid secretion and other cell functions may be possible in vivo for activators of phosphoinositidase C, and may explain apparently discrepant results from studies on other in-vitro adrenocortical cell preparations.

Journal of Endocrinology (1992) 133, 21–28

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Synthetic porcine calcitonin (α-calcitonin) and its methionine-sulphoxide derivative (β-calcitonin) were given by intravenous infusion to conscious male rats. α-Calcitonin inactivated by performic acid oxidation was used as a control.

Microgram doses of α-calcitonin produced a dose-dependent decrease in the renal excretion of magnesium. The effect was not due to a secondary release of parathyroid hormone since it was also seen in parathyroidectomized animals.

A marked increase in the renal excretion of inorganic phosphate, sodium and potassium preceded the change in magnesium excretion in parathyroidectomized rats. It is concluded that the phosphaturia and natriuresis previously described after administration of extracted calcitonin preparations are true effects of the hormone.

The effect of β-calcitonin was indistinguishable from that of α-calcitonin.

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The concentrations of prolactin, LH, progesterone and GH were measured in the blood of broody bantam hens. The concentration of prolactin was at its highest when the birds began to incubate their eggs and in six out of nine hens it tended to remain raised until the eggs hatched. The increase in the concentration of prolactin was small: in incubating hens it was only 23% higher than in hens caring for their young and 14% higher than in laying hens (P < 0·05 for both comparisons). The concentration of GH tended to be depressed in hens caring for young but otherwise was not related to reproductive activity. The concentrations of LH and progesterone decreased at the onset of incubation and remained depressed while the hens sat on their eggs (P < 0·001 for both comparisons). After the chicks hatched, the level of LH began to increase slowly whereas the level of progesterone remained low. The hens stopped showing broody behaviour between 4 and 10 weeks after the chicks had hatched; this corresponded to the time when the concentration of LH had increased to values found in laying hens.

These observations provide some evidence that prolactin secretion increases at the onset of incubation and support the view that the hormone is not secreted at an increased rate while hens are caring for their young.

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B. C. Williams, E. R. T. Lightly, A. R. Ross, I. M. Bird and S. W. Walker


Analysis by electron microscopy indicated that after 3 days of primary culture, purified bovine adrenal zonal fasciculata/reticularis (ZF/ZR) cells showed improved integrity of their ultrastructure, with an increased density of lipid droplets and smooth endoplasmic reticulum. The basal cortisol output was significantly (P < 0·05) greater on day 3 of culture than for the freshly isolated cells in six out of seven experiments. Similarly, in six experiments with ACTH (1 nmol/l) and five experiments with angiotensin II (10 nmol/l), the stimulated cortisol secretion was significantly (P < 0·01 for all 11 experiments) higher on day 3 of culture than in freshly isolated cells.

No significant increase in cortisol secretion above basal was observed with noradrenaline at any concentration in the freshly isolated cells, whereas a dose-dependent increase in cortisol secretion was observed on day 3 of culture in all of four experiments. These findings were supported by cyclic (c) AMP output measured in one such experiment. Thus the basal cAMP output and that stimulated by ACTH (1 nmol/l) were significantly higher after culture (P < 0·001, n = five wells for basal comparison; P < 0·05, n = three wells for ACTH at 1 nmol/l). In agreement with the cortisol results, cAMP production was unaffected by any concentration of noradrenaline in the freshly isolated cells, whereas a dose-dependent rise was found after culture. Angiotensin II at all concentrations had no effect on cAMP production in freshly isolated or cultured cells.

These studies demonstrate that the primary culture of purified bovine ZF/ZR cells increases basal steroidogenesis and leads to an enhanced responsiveness to the physiological stimuli, ACTH and angiotensin II. In addition, primary culture of purified bovine ZF/ZR cells revealed a noradrenaline response which was not readily observed in freshly isolated, purified ZF/ZR cells.

Journal of Endocrinology (1989) 121, 317–324

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J L Sartin, R J Kemppainen, E S Coleman, B Steele and J C Williams


Cortisol inhibits growth hormone (GH) release in short-term culture and is stimulatory in long-term cultures of rat and human pituitary cells. This study sought to determine the in vitro effects of cortisol on GH release and the signal transduction pathways mediating the effects of cortisol on GH release from cultured ovine somatotrophs. Pituitary cells were dispersed with collagenase and placed in culture medium for 4 days. The data indicate that cortisol inhibited growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH)-stimulated GH release by at least 2 h. In short-term culture GHRH-, forskolin- and dibutyryl cyclic AMP-stimulated GH release were inhibited by cortisol, suggesting an effect distal to the membrane and involving a protein kinase A (PKA)-dependent pathway. GH release initiated by KCl was inhibited by cortisol, but GH release caused by the calcium ionophore A23187 was unaffected. This suggests a possible action of cortisol on the calcium channels. The inhibition by cortisol of the calcium-dependent secretion of GH release appeared to play a smaller role in mediating cortisol inhibition of GH release than that seen with PKA. Attempts to overcome cortisol inhibition of GH release using puromycin, arachidonic acid or pertussis toxin were unsuccessful. Since cortisol inhibition of GH release does not occur via the mechanisms found in other cell types, cortisol inhibition of pituitary cell secretions appears to be cell-specific rather than utilizing a single inhibitory mechanism. The majority of cortisol actions on the somatotroph appear to act at a site distal to the production of cyclic AMP. In contrast to man and the rat, the sheep somatotroph does not appear to increase GH release when treated with cortisol for 24 h, perhaps related to the lack of effect of cortisol on somatotroph content of GH.

Journal of Endocrinology (1994) 141, 517–525

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Preparations of capsular rat adrenal cells consisting mainly of zona glomerulosa with less than 5% zona fasciculata contamination are described. The responses of the aldosterone and corticosterone outputs of these preparations to various stimuli were of four types. (1) Variations in K+ concentration gave a maximum aldosterone response at 5·9–8·4 mm-K+, about sixfold greater than the control output at 3·6 mmol/l. At higher K+ concentrations, such as 13 mmol/l, the response decreased. (2) Serotonin (at a concentration of about 10−4 mol/l) gave only a slightly lower maximal aldosterone response than did K+ but this did not decrease significantly at higher concentrations. Serotonin gave significant steroidogenic response at 10−8 mol/l. (3) [Asp1,Val5]-Angiotensin II (10−10 mol/l) with 3·6 mm-K+ gave a significant response and a constant maximal response at 2·5 × 10−8 mol/l. This maximum response was about half that found for both aldosterone and corticosterone when stimulated maximally by K+ or serotonin: [des-Asp1,Ile5]- and [des-Asp1,Val5]-angiotensin II (angiotensin III) gave similar response characteristics but had a lower potency in this cell preparation. The initial maximum response could be further increased at a higher concentration (from 2·5 × 10−5 mol/l) of a preparation of [Asn1,Val5]-amide angiotensin II (Hypertensin-Ciba) and might eventually be greater than with K+. This additional response was, to a major extent, due to stimulation of the contaminating zona fasciculata cells and was not seen with high concentrations of the free acid, angiotensin II. It was also not seen in two experiments with pure [Asn1]-amide angiotensin II and therefore it could have been due to some impurity in Hypertensin-Ciba. (4) Adrenocorticotrophin (Synacthen) at 3 × 10−11 mol/l gave a significant steroidogenic response. Higher concentrations (3 × 10−10 to 7·5 × 10−9 mol/l) gave no constant maximum but the response could be much greater than for other stimuli such as K+, serotonin and [Asp1]-angiotensin II. This additional response was again due to steroid precursors, e.g. deoxycorticosterone and corticosterone from contaminating zona fasciculata cells. Similar results were obtained with ACTH (ACTHAR) in three experiments. Threshold sensitivity (a significant increase in steroidogenesis) for ACTH (Synacthen) was, in two experiments, greater for zona fasciculata-reticularis cells (3 × 10−12 mol/l) than for zona glomerulosa cells (3 × 10−11 mol/l).

The data show that aldosterone output was approximately a function of the square of the corresponding corticosterone value. Specific effects on this pathway can be shown by values of aldosterone/corticosterone2 greater than one. Of all stimuli used, only K+ concentrations of 5·3, 5·9 and 13 mmol/l gave such effects. However, because of several considerations, only positive results with other stimuli may be meaningful. Calculation of this parameter might be useful as a screening test in bioassays for substances with aldosterone-stimulating activity.