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AJ Drake and BR Walker

Many epidemiological studies in diverse populations have demonstrated a link between low birth weight and subsequent disease. This evidence has given rise to the fetal origins hypothesis, which suggests that exposure of the fetus to an adverse environment in utero leads to permanent programming of tIssue function and a risk of cardiovascular disease. An alternative hypothesis is that low birth weight and adult cardiovascular disease are independent features of a genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease. This review describes evidence that the programming phenomenon may not be limited to the first generation offspring. Results of human and animal studies identify intergenerational programmed effects on both birth weight and cardiovascular disease. This may represent a mechanism for the non-genetic inheritance of a predisposition to low birth weight and adverse cardiovascular risk across a number of generations.

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DE Livingstone, CJ Kenyon, and BR Walker

Obesity has been associated with alterations in glucocorticoid metabolism in both man and rodents, but the underlying mechanisms remain undefined. We have previously reported tissue-specific alterations in 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11 beta-HSD1) in obese Zucker rats predicting that reactivation of corticosterone is decreased in liver but increased in omental fat. The mechanisms of dysregulation of 11 beta-HSD1 in obesity are not known, and in this study we have investigated the potential role of glucocorticoids and insulin. In one experiment lean and obese Zucker rats were adrenalectomised, and in a second experiment they were sensitised to insulin by treatment with either metformin or rosiglitazone. Adrenalectomy (ADX) of obese animals attenuated weight gain, normalised hepatic 11 beta-HSD1 kinetics by an effect on V(max) (V(max)in sham-operated animals, 6.6+/-1.1 nmol/min per mg in lean vs 3.4+/-0.6 in obese, P<0.01; in ADX animals 5.9+/-1.1 in lean vs 6.9+/-1.8 in obese, NS), and reversed the difference in omental fat 11 beta-HSD1 activity (18.9+/-4.2% in lean ADX vs 8.2+/-2.3 in obese ADX, P=0.03). Both metformin and rosiglitazone improved insulin sensitivity in obese, but not lean animals, and had no effect on 11 beta-HSD1 activity in either liver or fat. However, both treatments normalised adrenal hypertrophy in obese animals (48+/-29 mg in obese vehicle vs 37+/-1.2 in metformin and 38+/-1.8 in rosiglitazone treated, both P<0.01), and rosiglitazone tended to attenuate hypercorticosteronaemia in obese rats. Neither treatment attenuated weight gain; in fact, weight gain was enhanced by rosiglitazone in obese rats. In summary, altered 11 beta-HSD1 activity in obese Zucker rats is reversible following adrenalectomy, but the mechanism is unclear since adrenalectomy also normalises many other metabolic abnormalities. The current study suggests that hyperinsulinaemia is not responsible for tissue-specific dysregulation of 11 beta-HSD1. However, insulin sensitisation did reverse adrenal hypertrophy, suggesting that hyperinsulinaemia may be a key factor contributing to activation of the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in obesity independently of tissue-specific changes in 11 beta-HSD1.

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PM Jamieson, BR Walker, KE Chapman, R Andrew, S Rossiter, and Seckl JR

11 beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11 beta-HSD-1), a regulator of intrahepatocellular glucocorticoid activity, is bidirectional in homogenates but catalyses 11 beta-reduction (regenerating glucocorticoid) in intact primary hepatocytes in culture. To examine this discrepancy at the whole-organ level, we examined 11 beta-HSD-1 activity in the intact bivascularly perfused rat liver. On a single pass through male rat liver, 44+/-5% of 11-dehydrocorticosterone (11-DHC) recovered was 11 beta-reduced to corticosterone, whereas 10+/-1% of corticosterone was 11 beta-dehydrogenated to 11-DHC. 11 beta-Reduction was less in female liver (21+/-2%, P<0.01) and was significantly greater with perfusion of all substrate via the portal vein (50+/-3%) than via the hepatic artery (30+/-2%, P<0.05). 11 beta-Reductase activity was not saturated by 11-DHC (10(-)(9)-10(-)(6) M). Perfusion with carbenoxolone (CBX, 10(-)(6)-10(-)(3 )M) did not alter 11 beta-reduction of 11-DHC. In contrast, pretreatment with CBX in vivo (10 mg/day) for 7 days inhibited 11 beta-reductase (19+/-4% conversion, P<0.01). Concentrations of 11-DHC in male rat plasma were 44+/-6 nM. Thus 11 beta-HSD-1 is predominantly an 11 beta-reductase in the intact rat liver and is only inhibited by chronic administration of CBX. The substantial concentrations of plasma 11-DHC as substrate suggest that 11 beta-HSD-1 activity and its potential selective inhibition could modify glucocorticoid action in vivo.

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PM Jamieson, MJ Nyirenda, BR Walker, KE Chapman, and Seckl JR

In vitro, 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11beta-HSD-1) catalyses the interconversion of active corticosterone and inert 11-dehydrocorticosterone. 11beta-HSD-1 is highly expressed in liver, where the reaction direction is 11beta-reduction, thus potentially increasing intrahepatic active glucocorticoid levels. Inhibition of 11beta-HSD-1 increases insulin sensitivity in humans in vivo suggesting that hepatic 11beta-HSD-1 plays a role in the maintenance or control of key glucocorticoid-regulated metabolic functions. We have selectively repressed hepatic 11beta-HSD-1 in rats by oestradiol administration for 42 days. This nearly completely repressed hepatic 11beta-HSD-1 mRNA expression and enzyme activity and reduced expression of hepatic glucocorticoid-inducible genes including phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), the rate-limiting step in gluconeogenesis. Similar effects were seen after 3 weeks of oestradiol treatment. To examine whether this was due to any direct effect of oestradiol upon PEPCK, the experiment was repeated in adrenalectomised rats+/-glucocorticoid replacement. In adrenalectomised rats, oestradiol did not attenuate hepatic PEPCK, whilst glucocorticoid replacement restored this action. Oestradiol did not alter hepatic metabolism of corticosterone by pathways other than 11beta-HSD-1. These data suggest 11beta-HSD-1 plays an important role in maintaining expression of key glucocorticoid-regulated hepatic transcripts. Enzyme inhibition may provide a useful therapeutic target for manipulating glucose homeostasis.