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C Nilsson, M Seppala and K Pettersson

Immunoassays are widely used for measuring gonadotropins, including luteinizing hormone (LH), as these are both specific and sensitive. Because LH is microheterogeneous it has been claimed that the specificity of monoclonal antibodies used in two-site immunoassays can limit their clinical utility. Furthermore, we reported earlier a common genetic variant form of LH due to amino acid alterations in the LHbeta gene that is poorly or not recognized by antibodies directed against epitopes present in the intact molecule. We here report the result of an LH epitope mapping using 30 different monoclonal antibodies. The antigenic area affected by the amino acid alterations is fairly large, as antibodies to the two intact domains are able to sandwich each other. Combinations of alpha-beta or beta-beta antibodies generally provide alternatives for unbiased detection of circulating LH and some have reasonably good discrimination of human chorionic gonadotropin. The beta-beta combinations exhibit a peculiarity in urine determinations as they detect the urinary beta-core fragment. Our aims were to study the altered immunoreactivity caused by the amino acid changes and to design two-site LH assays fully capable of recognizing the biologically active LH variant. We also conclude that the variability in recognizing the universally occurring LH variant is the most important factor contributing to the widely documented LH immunoassay discrepancies.

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L. Persson, M. Nilsson and E. Rosengren


The biosynthesis of polyamines, an ubiquitous group of amines shown to be essential for normal cellular growth and differentiation, was studied in the rat anterior pituitary gland during the different stages of the oestrous cycle. The activity of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), which catalyses the rate-limiting step in the biosynthesis of polyamines, was low during oestrus, metoestrus and dioestrus. However, a marked transitory rise in ODC activity was found in the pituitary gland on the evening of pro-oestrus. The rise in ODC activity was accompanied by an increase in the pituitary content of the polyamines putrescine and spermidine.

Ovariectomy did not significantly change the basal ODC activity in the pituitary gland. Oestrogen treatment of ovariectomized rats resulted in a marked stimulation of pituitary polyamine biosynthesis. The largest effects were observed when oestrogen was given as two injections 72 h apart, which gave rise to levels of ODC activity comparable to those observed on the evening of pro-oestrus.

The increase in polyamine synthesis in the anterior pituitary gland during pro-oestrus appeared not to be related to the preovulatory secretion of LH or prolactin, since neither LH-releasing hormone nor thyrotrophin-releasing hormone (which induces a secretion of prolactin) affected pituitary ODC activity. The observed biosynthesis of polyamines may be associated with the cellular proliferation which occurs in the anterior pituitary gland at oestrus.

J. Endocr. (1985) 107, 83–87

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SJ Hazel, AC Nordqvist, K Hall, M Nilsson and M Schalling

IGF-I has important roles in regulating growth and metabolism. Circulating IGF-I is bound to specific binding proteins (IGFBP-1 to -6), with hepatocytes containing IGF-I, IGFBP-1 and -2 mRNA. Although many hepatic proteins are regionally expressed in the liver acinus, no studies have reported zonation of IGF protein expression. In this study we investigated the pattern of hepatic mRNA for the IGF proteins, vs the previously reported pepriportal gradient of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) expression. In situ hybridisation was used to analyse IGF-I, IGFBP-1, -2 and PEPCK mRNA in female Sprague-Dawley rats fed diets containing low (6%), normal (21%) or high (35%) protein. We report for the first time that IGFBP-1 and -2 and IGF-I are differentially expressed in the liver acinus. In the normal- and high-protein groups, levels of IGFBP-1 mRNA were higher in the perivenous region, i.e. the opposite gradient to PEPCK, with a higher gradient of IGFBP-1 expression in the high-protein group. In contrast, IGFBP-2 had a similar pattern to PEPCK, and a periportal gradient of IGF-I mRNA was also seen in the low-protein group. Using computerised image analysis, levels of IGFBP-1 and -2 mRNA were elevated 2- and 10-fold respectively, in the low- vs normal-protein groups. The level of IGF-I mRNA was reduced to 65% of normal, with circulating IGF-I levels at 30% and insulin levels 39% of normal. These results demonstrate that hepatocytes are a heterogeneous population with respect to regulation of IGF proteins, having specific expression patterns dependent on the position of the hepatocyte within the liver acinus.

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M Liang, E Ekblad, JA Gustafsson and BO Nilsson

The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of oestrogen receptor (ER) beta activation on vascular protein synthesis and protein expression. Nuclear immunoreactivity towards ER beta was observed abundantly in vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells of mouse aorta. No ER alpha-positive cell nuclei were observed. In aorta from ovariectomized mice, treatment with the selective ER beta agonist genistein (100 nM) for 24 h increased [(3)H]leucine incorporation by about 30%. This effect was prevented by the ER blocker ICI 182780 (10 microM). Although genistein treatment stimulated protein synthesis, it caused no change in total protein determined either by the Lowry method on tissue homogenate or by densitometric scanning of protein bands (10-220 kDa) separated by SDS-PAGE. Separation of [(35)S]methionine-labelled proteins by SDS-PAGE did not reveal the protein(s) stimulated by genistein. DNA synthesis was not affected by 100 nM genistein, suggesting that genistein-induced stimulation of protein synthesis is not part of a growth response. Protein expression, determined by SDS-PAGE, was similar in aorta from ER beta-knockout and wild-type mice, suggesting that expression of vascular proteins does not depend solely on a functional ER beta gene. We suggest that activation of vascular ER beta stimulates synthesis of proteins and that this response is not associated with vascular growth.

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E A Parker, A Hegde, M Buckley, K M Barnes, J Baron and O Nilsson

Previous studies of the GH–IGF system gene expression in growth plate using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization have yielded conflicting results. We therefore studied the spatial and temporal patterns of mRNA expression of the GH–IGF system in the rat proximal tibial growth plate quantitatively. Growth plates were microdissected into individual zones. RNA was extracted, reverse transcribed and analyzed by real-time PCR. In 1-week-old animals, IGF-I mRNA expression was minimal in growth plate compared with perichondrium, metaphyseal bone, muscle, and liver (70-, 130-, 215-, and 400-fold less). In contrast, IGF-II mRNA was expressed at higher levels than in bone and liver (65- and 2-fold). IGF-II expression was higher in the proliferative and resting zones compared with the hypertrophic zone (P < 0.001). GH receptor and type 1 and 2 IGF receptors were expressed throughout the growth plate. Expression of IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs)-1 through -6 mRNA was low throughout the growth plate compared with perichondrium and bone. With increasing age (3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-week castrated rats), IGF-I mRNA levels increased in the proliferative zone (PZ) but remained at least tenfold lower than levels in perichondrium and bone. IGF-II mRNA decreased dramatically in PZ (780-fold; P < 0.001) whereas, type 2 IGF receptor and IGFBP-1, IGFBP-2, IGFBP-3, and IGFBP-4 increased significantly with age in growth plate and/or surrounding perichondrium and bone. These data suggest that IGF-I protein in the growth plate is not produced primarily by the chondrocytes themselves. Instead, it derives from surrounding perichondrium and bone. In addition, the decrease in growth velocity that occurs with age may be caused, in part, by decreasing expression of IGF-II and increasing expression of type 2 IGF receptor and multiple IGFBPs.

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C Andersson, ML Lydrup, M Ferno, I Idvall, J Gustafsson and BO Nilsson

The role of oestrogen receptor (ER) beta in vascular function remains unclear. With the use of a specific ERbeta antibody we have now, using immunocytochemistry, visualized ERbeta in different parts of the vascular tree. In about 70% of medial smooth muscle cells of female rat aorta, tail artery and uterine artery, nuclear immunoreactivity to ERbeta was observed. In these vessels endothelial cells also expressed ERbeta. Vascular expression of the ERalpha subtype was lower than that of ERbeta. In aorta and tail artery, no immunoreactivity towards ERalpha was observed, while in uterine vessels occasional medial smooth muscle and endothelial cells expressed this ER subtype. ERbeta and alpha expression in uterine vessels was independent of the stage of the oestrous cycle, suggesting that variations in uterine blood flow occurring during the cycle are independent of ER density. The regional distribution of ERalpha, as determined by immunocytochemistry, was supported by measurements of ERalpha levels by enzyme immunoassay. In the uterine artery, the level of ERalpha was several times higher (P<0.001) than that of aorta and tail artery (10.1+/-1.7 fmol/mg protein in the uterine artery vs 3.3+/-1.0 and 0.5+/-0.5 fmol/mg protein in aorta and tail artery respectively). Thus, a prominent nuclear expression of ERbeta was observed in the vascular wall of several parts of the vascular tree, while ERalpha predominantly was expressed in uterine vessels, suggesting that ERbeta and alpha may have different roles in vascular function.

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Ola Nilsson, Elizabeth A Parker, Anita Hegde, Michael Chau, Kevin M Barnes and Jeffrey Baron

In the growth plate, stem-like cells in the resting zone differentiate into rapidly dividing chondrocytes of the proliferative zone and then terminally differentiate into the non-dividing chondrocytes of the hypertrophic zone. To explore the molecular switches responsible for this two-step differentiation program, we developed a microdissection method to isolate RNA from the resting (RZ), proliferative (PZ), and hypertrophic zones (HZ) of 7-day-old male rats. Expression of approximately 29 000 genes was analyzed by microarray and selected genes verified by real-time PCR. The analysis identified genes whose expression changed dramatically during the differentiation program, including multiple genes functionally related to bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). BMP-2 and BMP-6 were upregulated in HZ compared with RZ and PZ (30-fold each, P < 0.01 and 0.001 respectively). In contrast, BMP signaling inhibitors were expressed early in the differentiation pathway; BMP-3 and gremlin were differentially expressed in RZ (100- and 80-fold, compared with PZ, P < 0.001 and 0.005 respectively) and growth differentiation factor (GDF)-10 in PZ (160-fold compared with HZ, P < 0.001). Our findings suggest a BMP signaling gradient across the growth plate, which is established by differential expression of multiple BMPs and BMP inhibitors in specific zones. Since BMPs can stimulate both proliferation and hypertrophic differentiation of growth plate chondrocytes, these findings suggest that low levels of BMP signaling in the resting zone may help maintain these cells in a quiescent state. In the lower RZ, greater BMP signaling may help induce differentiation to proliferative chondrocytes. Farther down the growth plate, even greater BMP signaling may help induce hypertrophic differentiation. Thus, BMP signaling gradients may be a key mechanism responsible for spatial regulation of chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation in growth plate cartilage.

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Lenneke Schrier, Sandra P Ferns, Kevin M Barnes, Joyce A M Emons, Eric I Newman, Ola Nilsson and Jeffrey Baron

With age, the growth plate undergoes senescent changes that cause linear bone growth to slow and finally cease. Based on previous indirect evidence, we hypothesized that this senescent decline occurs because growth plate stem-like cells, located in the resting zone, have a finite proliferative capacity that is gradually depleted. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that the proliferation rate in rabbit resting zone chondrocytes (assessed by continuous 5-bromo-2′-deoxy-uridine labeling) decreases with age, as does the number of resting zone chondrocytes per area of growth plate.

Glucocorticoid excess slows growth plate senescence. To explain this effect, we hypothesized that glucocorticoid inhibits resting zone chondrocyte proliferation, thus conserving their proliferative capacity. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that dexamethasone treatment decreased the proliferation rate of rabbit resting zone chondrocytes and slowed the numerical depletion of these cells. Estrogen is known to accelerate growth plate senescence. However, we found that estradiol cypionate treatment slowed resting zone chondrocyte proliferation.

Our findings support the hypotheses that growth plate senescence is caused by qualitative and quantitative depletion of stem-like cells in the resting zone and that growth-inhibiting conditions, such as glucocorticoid excess, slow senescence by slowing resting zone chondrocyte proliferation and slowing the numerical depletion of these cells, thereby conserving the proliferative capacity of the growth plate. We speculate that estrogen might accelerate senescence by a proliferation-independent mechanism, or by increasing the loss of proliferative capacity per cell cycle.

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G Muccioli, C Ghe, MC Ghigo, M Papotti, E Arvat, MF Boghen, MH Nilsson, R Deghenghi, H Ong and E Ghigo

In vitro studies have been performed to demonstrate and characterize specific binding sites for synthetic GH secretagogues (sGHS) on membranes from pituitary gland and different human brain regions. A binding assay for sGHS was established using a peptidyl sGHS (Tyr-Ala-hexarelin) which had been radioiodinated to high specific activity at the Tyr residue. Specific binding sites for 125I-labelled Tyr-Ala-hexarelin were detected mainly in membranes isolated from pituitary gland and hypothalamus, but they were also present in other brain areas such as choroid plexus, cerebral cortex, hippocampus and medulla oblongata with no sex-related differences. In contrast, negligible binding was found in the thalamus, striatum, substantia nigra, cerebellum and corpus callosum. The binding of 125I-labelled Tyr-Ala-hexarelin to membrane-binding sites is a saturable and reversible process, depending on incubation time and pH of the buffer. Scatchard analysis of the binding revealed a finite number of binding sites in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland with a dissociation constant (Kd) of (1.5 +/- 0.3) x 10(-9) and (2.1 +/- 0.4) x 10(-9) mol/l respectively. Receptor activity is sensitive to trypsin and phospholipase C digestion, suggesting that protein and phospholipids are essential for the binding of 125I-labelled Tyr-Ala-hexarelin. The binding of 125I-labelled Tyr-Ala-hexarelin to pituitary and hypothalamic membranes was displaced in a dose-dependent manner by different unlabelled synthetic peptidyl (Tyr-Ala-hexarelin, GHRP2, hexarelin, GHRP6) and non-peptidyl (MK 0677) sGHS. An inhibition of the specific binding was also observed when binding was performed in the presence of [D-Arg1-D-Phe5-D-Trp7,9-Leu11]-substance P, a substance P antagonist that has been found to inhibit GH release in response to sGHS. In contrast, no competition was observed in the presence of other neuropeptides (GHRH, somatostatin, galanin or Met-enkephalin) which have a known influence on GH release. In conclusion, the present data demonstrate that sGHS have specific receptors in human brain and pituitary gland and reinforce the hypothesis that these compounds could be the synthetic counterpart of an endogenous GH secretagogue involved in the neuroendocrine control of GH secretion and possibly in other central activities.

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Ola Nilsson, Robert D Mitchum Jr, Lenneke Schrier, Sandra P Ferns, Kevin M Barnes, James F Troendle and Jeffrey Baron

The overall body size of vertebrates is primarily determined by longitudinal bone growth at the growth plate. With age, the growth plate undergoes programmed senescence, causing longitudinal bone growth to slow and eventually cease. Indirect evidence suggests that growth plate senescence occurs because stem-like cells in the growth plate resting zone have a finite proliferative capacity that is gradually exhausted. Similar limits on replication have been observed when many types of animal cells are placed in cell culture, an effect known as the Hayflick phenomenon. However, we found that the number of population doublings of rabbit resting zone chondrocytes in culture did not depend on the age of the animal from which the cells were harvested, suggesting that the mechanisms limiting replicative capacity of growth plate chondrocytes in vivo are distinct from those in vitro. We also observed that the level of DNA methylation in resting zone chondrocytes decreased with age in vivo. This loss of methylation appeared to occur specifically with the slow proliferation of resting zone chondrocytes in vivo and was not observed with the rapid proliferation of proliferative zone chondrocytes in vivo (i.e. the level of DNA methylation did not change from the resting zone to the hypertrophic zone), with proliferation of chondrocytes in vitro, or with growth of the liver in vivo. Thus, the overall level of DNA methylation decreases during growth plate senescence. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that the mechanism limiting replication of growth plate chondrocytes in vivo involves loss of DNA methylation and, thus, loss of DNA methylation might be a fundamental biological mechanism that limits longitudinal bone growth in mammals, thereby determining the overall adult size of the organism.