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David P Macfarlane, Shareen Forbes and Brian R Walker

Glucocorticoid hormones constitute an integral component of the response to stress, and many of the manifestations of glucocorticoid excess (Cushing's syndrome) are predictable on the basis of their acute effects to raise blood pressure, induce insulin resistance, increase protein catabolism and elevate plasma glucose. However, it appears to be a paradox that the acute lipolytic effect of glucocorticoids is not manifest in long-term weight loss in humans. The effects of glucocorticoids on glucose metabolism are well characterised, involving impaired peripheral glucose uptake and hepatic insulin resistance, and there is mounting evidence that subtle abnormalities in glucocorticoid concentrations in the plasma and/or in tissue sensitivity to glucocorticoids are important in metabolic syndrome. The effects of glucocorticoids on fatty acid metabolism are less well understood than their influence on glucose metabolism. In this article, we review the literature describing the effects of glucocorticoids on fatty acid metabolism, with particular reference to in vivo human studies. We consider the implications for contrasting acute versus chronic effects of glucocorticoids on fat accumulation, effects in different adipose depots and the potential role of glucocorticoid signalling in the pathogenesis and therapy of metabolic syndrome.

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Dawn E W Livingstone, Sarah L Grassick, Gillian L Currie, Brian R Walker and Ruth Andrew

In obese humans, metabolism of glucocorticoids by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) and A-ring reduction (by 5α- and 5β-reductases) is dysregulated in a tissue specific manner. These changes have been recapitulated in leptin resistant obese Zucker rats but were not observed in high-fat fed Wistar rats. Recent data from mouse models suggest that such discrepancies may reflect differences in leptin signalling. We therefore compared glucocorticoid metabolism in murine models of leptin deficiency and resistance. Male ob/ob and db/db mice and their respective littermate controls (n=10–12/group) were studied at the age of 12 weeks. Enzyme activities and mRNA expression were quantified in snap-frozen tissues. The patterns of altered pathways of steroid metabolism in obesity were similar in ob/ob and db/db mice. In liver, 5β-reductase activity and mRNA were increased and 11β-HSD1 decreased in obese mice, whereas 5α-reductase 1 (5αR1) mRNA was not altered. In visceral adipose depots, 5β-reductase was not expressed, 11β-HSD1 activity was increased and 5αR1 mRNA was not altered in obesity. By contrast, in subcutaneous adipose tissue 11β-HSD1 and 5αR1 mRNA were decreased. Systematic differences were not found between ob/ob and db/db murine models of obesity, suggesting that variations in leptin signalling through the short splice variant of the Ob receptor do not contribute to dysregulation of glucocorticoid metabolism.

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Dawn E W Livingstone, Emma M Di Rollo, Tracy C-S Mak, Karen Sooy, Brian R Walker and Ruth Andrew

5α-Reductases irreversibly catalyse A-ring reduction of pregnene steroids, including glucocorticoids and androgens. Genetic disruption of 5α-reductase 1 in male mice impairs glucocorticoid clearance and predisposes to glucose intolerance and hepatic steatosis upon metabolic challenge. However, it is unclear whether this is driven by changes in androgen and/or glucocorticoid action. Female mice with transgenic disruption of 5α-reductase 1 (5αR1-KO) were studied, representing a ‘low androgen’ state. Glucocorticoid clearance and stress responses were studied in mice aged 6 months. Metabolism was assessed in mice on normal chow (aged 6 and 12 m) and also in a separate cohort following 1-month high-fat diet (aged 3 m). Female 5αR1-KO mice had adrenal suppression (44% lower AUC corticosterone after stress), and upon corticosterone infusion, accumulated hepatic glucocorticoids (~27% increased corticosterone). Female 5αR1-KO mice aged 6 m fed normal chow demonstrated insulin resistance (~35% increased area under curve (AUC) for insulin upon glucose tolerance testing) and hepatic steatosis (~33% increased hepatic triglycerides) compared with controls. This progressed to obesity (~12% increased body weight) and sustained insulin resistance (~38% increased AUC insulin) by age 12 m. Hepatic transcript profiles supported impaired lipid β-oxidation and increased triglyceride storage. Female 5αR1-KO mice were also predisposed to develop high-fat diet-induced insulin resistance. Exaggerated predisposition to metabolic disorders in female mice, compared with that seen in male mice, after disruption of 5αR1 suggests phenotypic changes may be underpinned by altered metabolism of glucocorticoids rather than androgens.

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Dawn E W Livingstone, Emma M Di Rollo, Chenjing Yang, Lucy E Codrington, John A Mathews, Madina Kara, Katherine A Hughes, Christopher J Kenyon, Brian R Walker and Ruth Andrew

Patients with critical illness or hepatic failure exhibit impaired cortisol responses to ACTH, a phenomenon known as ‘relative adrenal insufficiency’. A putative mechanism is that elevated bile acids inhibit inactivation of cortisol in liver by 5α-reductases type 1 and type 2 and 5β-reductase, resulting in compensatory downregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and adrenocortical atrophy. To test the hypothesis that impaired glucocorticoid clearance can cause relative adrenal insufficiency, we investigated the consequences of 5α-reductase type 1 deficiency in mice. In adrenalectomised male mice with targeted disruption of 5α-reductase type 1, clearance of corticosterone was lower after acute or chronic (eightfold, P<0.05) administration, compared with WT control mice. In intact 5α-reductase-deficient male mice, although resting plasma corticosterone levels were maintained, corticosterone responses were impaired after ACTH administration (26% lower, P<0.05), handling stress (2.5-fold lower, P<0.05) and restraint stress (43% lower, P<0.05) compared with WT mice. mRNA levels of Nr3c1 (glucocorticoid receptor), Crh and Avp in pituitary or hypothalamus were altered, consistent with enhanced negative feedback. These findings confirm that impaired peripheral clearance of glucocorticoids can cause ‘relative adrenal insufficiency’ in mice, an observation with important implications for patients with critical illness or hepatic failure, and for patients receiving 5α-reductase inhibitors for prostatic disease.

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Katie J Mylonas, Neil A Turner, Sumia A Bageghni, Christopher J Kenyon, Christopher I White, Kieran McGregor, Robert A Kimmitt, Richard Sulston, Valerie Kelly, Brian R Walker, Karen E Porter, Karen E Chapman and Gillian A Gray

We have previously demonstrated that neutrophil recruitment to the heart following myocardial infarction (MI) is enhanced in mice lacking 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) that regenerates active glucocorticoid within cells from intrinsically inert metabolites. The present study aimed to identify the mechanism of regulation. In a mouse model of MI, neutrophil mobilization to blood and recruitment to the heart were higher in 11β-HSD1-deficient (Hsd11b1 / ) relative to wild-type (WT) mice, despite similar initial injury and circulating glucocorticoid. In bone marrow chimeric mice, neutrophil mobilization was increased when 11β-HSD1 was absent from host cells, but not when absent from donor bone marrow-derived cells. Consistent with a role for 11β-HSD1 in ‘host’ myocardium, gene expression of a subset of neutrophil chemoattractants, including the chemokines Cxcl2 and Cxcl5, was selectively increased in the myocardium of Hsd11b1 / mice relative to WT. SM22α-Cre directed disruption of Hsd11b1 in smooth muscle and cardiomyocytes had no effect on neutrophil recruitment. Expression of Cxcl2 and Cxcl5 was elevated in fibroblast fractions isolated from hearts of Hsd11b1 / mice post MI and provision of either corticosterone or of the 11β-HSD1 substrate, 11-dehydrocorticosterone, to cultured murine cardiac fibroblasts suppressed IL-1α-induced expression of Cxcl2 and Cxcl5. These data identify suppression of CXCL2 and CXCL5 chemoattractant expression by 11β-HSD1 as a novel mechanism with potential for regulation of neutrophil recruitment to the injured myocardium, and cardiac fibroblasts as a key site for intracellular glucocorticoid regeneration during acute inflammation following myocardial injury.

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Dieuwertje C.e. Spaanderman, Mark Nixon, Jacobus C. Buurstede, Hetty Cm Sips, Maaike Schilperoort, Eline N. Kuipers, Emma A. Backer, Sander Kooijman, Patrick C. N. Rensen, Natalie Z.m. Homer, Brian R Walker, Onno C. Meijer and Jan Kroon

Glucocorticoid signaling is context-dependent, and in certain scenarios glucocorticoid receptors (GR) are able to engage with other members of the nuclear receptor subfamily. Glucocorticoid signaling can exert sexually dimorphic effects, suggesting a possible interaction with androgen sex hormones. We therefore set out to determine the crosstalk between glucocorticoids and androgens in metabolic tissues including white adipose tissue, liver and brown adipose tissue. Thereto we exposed male C57BL/6J mice to elevated levels of corticosterone in combination with an androgen receptor (AR) agonist or an AR antagonist. Systemic and local glucocorticoid levels were determined by mass spectrometry, tissue expression of glucocorticoid-responsive genes and protein was measured by RT-qPCR and Western blot, respectively. To evaluate crosstalk in vitro, cultured white and brown adipocytes were exposed to a combination of corticosterone and an androgen agonist. We found that AR agonism potentiated transcriptional response to GR in vitro in white and brown adipocytes and in vivo in white and brown adipose tissue. Conversely, AR antagonism substantially attenuated glucocorticoid signaling in white adipose tissue and liver. In white adipose tissue this effect could partially be attributed to decreased 11B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1-mediated glucocorticoid regeneration upon AR antagonism. In liver, attenuated GR activity was independent of active glucocorticoid ligand levels. We conclude that androgen signaling modulates GR transcriptional output in a tissue-specific manner.