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DM Stocco

The steroidogenic acute regulatory or StAR protein has been shown to be instrumental in the acute regulation of steroid hormone biosynthesis through its action in mediating cholesterol transfer to the inner mitochondrial membrane and the cholesterol side chain cleavage enzyme system. Since the time of its cloning in 1994, a number of studies have been performed which underscore the important role that this protein plays in steroidogenesis. While it is now quite apparent that StAR fulfills the criteria for the acute regulator as proposed by early studies, several crucial areas remain poorly understood. This list is topped by the so far intractable nature of the mechanism of action of StAR in transferring cholesterol to the P450scc enzyme. A second area which should prove to be of great interest is that of further understanding the regulation of the StAR gene which, like many genes, is quite complex. Lastly, with the recent demonstration of StAR being present in the brain, determining if StAR has a role in the synthesis of neurosteroids should prove to be of great importance.

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LP Walsh, DR Webster and DM Stocco

Dimethoate is a widely used organophosphate insecticide that has been shown to disrupt reproductive function in animals. Although the pathogenesis of Dimethoate-induced reproductive toxicity remains to be determined, a reduction in serum testosterone levels is thought to play an important role in the development of Dimethoate-induced infertility. Since Leydig cells play a crucial role in male reproductive function by producing testosterone, the mouse MA-10 Leydig tumor cell line was used to determine if Dimethoate can directly block steroid hormone biosynthesis and to identify the site of steroidogenic inhibition. Dimethoate inhibited steroidogenesis in both a dose- and time-dependent manner without affecting total protein synthesis or protein kinase A activity. While it decreased the activity of the P450 side chain cleavage (P450 scc) enzyme, a reduction in the activity of this enzyme alone could not account for the level of Bu(2)cAMP-inhibited progesterone production. Instead, our results suggest that Dimethoate inhibited steroidogenesis primarily by blocking transcription of the steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) gene. This finding is significant since StAR protein mediates the rate-limiting and acutely-regulated step in steroidogenesis, the transfer of cholesterol from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membrane. This study indicates that StAR may be an important target for environmental pollutants which disrupt steroidogenesis and impair reproductive function.

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T Lin, D Wang and DM Stocco

The rate-limiting step of steroidogenesis is the transport of the substrate cholesterol from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membrane which involves a cycloheximide-sensitive newly synthesized protein. A protein believed to carry out this function was recently cloned from MA-10 mouse Leydig tumor cells and named the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). In the present study, we evaluated the expression and regulation of StAR in primary cultures of rat Leydig cells. StAR mRNA was expressed in Leydig cells as two major transcripts of 3.8 and 1.7 kb and one minor transcript of 1.2 kb. Induction of StAR mRNA transcripts could be detected as early as 30 min after the addition of human choriogonadotropin (hCG) with peak levels attained between 2 and 4 h. hCG in concentrations of 0.1-10 ng/ml caused a dose-dependent increase in StAR mRNA expression. hCG administered at a dose of 10 ng/ml increased the 3.8 kb StAR mRNA level about 14-fold and the 1.7 kb StAR mRNA level about 13.6-fold. hCG-stimulated StAR mRNA was associated with increased StAR protein levels as determined by immunoblot analysis (a 4.5-fold increase). Murine interleukin-1 alpha (mIL-1 alpha) at a concentration of 100 ng/ml inhibited hCG-induced cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage (P450 scc) mRNA expression and testosterone formation almost completely. Interestingly, mIL-1 alpha had no effect on hCG-induced StAR mRNA or protein levels. Furthermore, mIL-1 alpha (10 ng/ml) decreased conversion of (22R)-hydroxycholesterol to testosterone while the conversion of pregnenolone, 17-hydroxypregnenolone, dehydroepiandrosterone and androstenedione to testosterone were not affected. These results indicate that the major inhibitory effect of IL-1 on Leydig cell function occurs at the level of P450 scc.

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YO Lukyanenko, AM Carpenter, DE Brigham, DM Stocco and JC Hutson

The purpose of this investigation was to study the mechanism of action of a macrophage-derived factor that stimulates steroid production by Leydig cells. This factor increased testosterone production within 30 min, and reached a half-maximal response by 6-8 h. At a maximal dose, it stimulated testosterone production 20-fold at 24 h. Its efficacy was consistently higher than that achieved with a maximal dose of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). However, Leydig cells treated with a maximal dose of both the macrophage-derived factor and hCG secreted the same amount of testosterone as when given a maximal dose of only the macrophage-derived factor. The macrophage-derived factor did not require new protein synthesis to stimulate testosterone production, nor did it alter the amount of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). While the macrophage-derived factor required an active cholesterol side-chain cleavage complex system, it did not alter the capacity of this enzyme complex. Finally, the macrophage-derived factor was unable to stimulate the production of progesterone by isolated mitochondria. In summary, the macrophage-derived factor is a highly active, acute regulator of steroidogenesis that acts through a high capacity StAR-independent pathway.

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KS Weber, KD Setchell, DM Stocco and ED Lephart

Nutritional factors, especially phytoestrogens, have been extensively studied for their potential beneficial effects against hormone-dependent and age-related diseases. The present study describes the short-term effects of dietary phytoestrogens on regulatory behaviors (food/water intake, locomotor activity and body weight), prostate weight, prostate 5alpha-reductase enzyme activity, reproductive hormone levels, and testicular steroidogenic acute regulatory peptide (StAR) levels in adult Sprague-Dawley rats. Animals were fed either a phytoestrogen-rich diet containing approximately 600 microg/g isoflavones (as determined by HPLC) or a phytoestrogen-free diet. After 5 weeks of consuming these diets, plasma phytoestrogen levels were 35 times higher in animals fed the phytoestrogen-rich vs phytoestrogen-free diets. Body and prostate weights were significantly decreased in animals fed the phytoestrogen-rich diet vs the phytoestrogen-free fed animals; however, no significant change in prostate 5alpha-reductase enzyme activity was observed between the treatment groups. Locomotor activity levels were higher in the phytoestrogen-rich vs the phytoestrogen-free animals during the course of the treatment interval. Plasma testosterone and androstenedione levels were significantly lower in the animals fed the phytoestrogen-rich diet compared with animals fed the phytoestrogen-free diet. However, there were no significant differences in plasma LH or estradiol levels between the diet groups. Testicular StAR levels were not significantly different between the phytoestrogen-rich vs the phytoestrogen-free fed animals. These results indicated that consumption of dietary phytoestrogens resulting in very high plasma isoflavone levels over a relatively short period can significantly alter body and prostate weight and plasma androgen hormone levels without affecting gonadotropin or testicular StAR levels. The findings of this study identify the biological actions of phytoestrogens on male reproductive endocrinology and provide insights into the protective effects these estrogen mimics exert in male reproductive disorders such as benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer.

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FF Rommerts, L Kuhne, GW van Cappellen, DM Stocco, SR King and A Jankowska

The mechanism by which ethane 1,2-dimethanesulfonate (EDS) selectively kills Leydig cells is poorly understood. To characterize further the cell-specific actions of EDS, we studied biochemical and morphological changes during apoptosis in different Leydig cell and non-steroidogenic cell models.Rat testicular and H540 tumor Leydig cells were killed by 1-2 mM EDS, whereas 20 mM EDS were required for MA-10 cells. This higher concentration of EDS was also necessary for activation of apoptosis in non-steroidogenic Chinese hamster ovary cells, whereas COS-1 monkey kidney cells were resistant. These variable effects of EDS on apoptosis were independent of new protein synthesis and, interestingly, could be delayed by co-incubation with dibutyrl cyclic AMP. Along with cell death, we also observed chromosomal fragmentation and other hallmarks indicative of apoptosis as evidenced by DNA laddering and fluorescent microscopy. Time-lapse photography with a confocal microscope showed that the time of onset, duration and even the sequence of apoptotic events between individual H540 cells was heterogeneous. When the dose of EDS was gradually increased from 2 to 10 mM, the proportion of cells showing normal apoptotic features gradually decreased. Intriguingly, treatment with 10 mM EDS did not result in death for most cells and was marked by an absence of DNA laddering and ultrastructural features of apoptosis and necrosis. However, incubation with 20 mM EDS resulted in necrosis.These results demonstrated that the effects of EDS on cell survival are not specific to Leydig cells, that different cell types have different sensitivities to EDS and that stimulation of the cAMP pathway may mitigate EDS action. The data obtained with H540 cells further revealed that EDS can induce two types of programmed cell death.

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R Sirianni, JB Seely, G Attia, DM Stocco, BR Carr, V Pezzi and WE Rainey

In the current study we test the hypothesis that liver receptor homologue-1 (LRH; designated NR5A2) is involved in the regulation of steroid hormone production. The potential role of LRH was assessed by first examining expression in human steroidogenic tissues and second by examining effects on transcription of genes encoding enzymes involved in steroidogenesis. LRH is closely related to steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1; designated NR5A1), which is expressed in most steroidogenic tissues and regulates expression of several steroid-metabolizing enzymes. LRH transcripts were expressed at high levels in the human ovary and testis. Adrenal and placenta expressed much lower levels of LRH than either ovary or liver. To examine the effects of LRH on steroidogenic capacity we used reporter constructs prepared with the 5'-flanking region of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), cholesterol side-chain cleavage (CYP11A1), 3beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II (HSD3B2), 17alpha hydroxylase, 17,20 lyase (CYP17), 11beta hydroxylase (CYP11B1) and aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2). Co-transfection of these reporter constructs with LRH expression vector demonstrated that like SF1, LRH enhanced reporter activity driven by flanking DNA from StAR, CYP11A1, CYP17, HSD3B2, and CYP11B1. Reporter constructs driven by CYP11A1 and CYP17 were increased the most by co-transfection with LRH and SF1. Of the promoters examined only HSD3B2 was more sensitive to LRH than SF1. The high level of ovarian and testicular LRH expression make it likely that LRH plays an important role in the regulation of gonadal function.

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C Paz, F Cornejo Maciel, P Maloberti, LP Walsh, DM Stocco and EJ Podesta

The LH signal transduction pathway features the activation of protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs) as one of the components of a cascade that includes other well characterized events such as cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) activation. Moreover, the action of PTPs is required to increase the rate-limiting step in steroid biosynthesis, namely the cAMP-regulated transfer of cholesterol to the inner mitochondrial membrane. Since both PKA activity and steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein induction are obligatory steps in this transfer of cholesterol, the present study was performed to investigate the role of PTPs in the regulation of PKA activity and StAR expression in response to LH/chorionic gonadotropin (CG) and 8Br-cAMP in MA-10 cells. While the exposure of MA-10 cells to the PTP inhibitor, phenylarsine oxide (PAO), did not modify PKA activity, it partially inhibited the effect of human CG and cAMP analog on StAR protein levels. Time-course studies demonstrated that PAO inhibited cAMP induction of StAR protein and mRNA. At 30 min, the effect on cAMP-stimulated StAR protein levels was a 35% inhibition, progressing to up to 90% inhibition at 120 min of stimulation. The maximal inhibitory effect on cAMP-induced StAR mRNA level was obtained at 60 min (85%). In summary, these results demonstrate that inhibition of PTP activity affected both StAR protein and mRNA synthesis and suggest that the activity of hormone-regulated PTPs is a requirement in the LH signaling cascade that results in the up-regulation of StAR protein and, subsequently, increased steroid synthesis.