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Nicole Draper and Paul M Stewart

Two isozymes of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD1 and 11β-HSD2) catalyse the interconversion of hormonally active cortisol and inactive cortisone. The enzyme evolved from a metabolic pathway to a novel mechanism underpinning human disease with the elucidation of the role of the type 2 or ‘kidney’ isozyme and an inherited form of hypertension, ‘apparent mineralocorti-coid excess’. ‘Cushing’s disease of the kidney’ arises because of a failure of 11β-HSD2 to inactivate cortisol to cortisone resulting in cortisol-induced mineralocorticoid excess.

Conversely, 11β-HSD1 has been linked to human obesity and insulin resistance, but also to other diseases in which glucocorticoids have historically been implicated (osteoporosis, glaucoma). Here, the activation of cortisol from cortisone facilitates glucocorticoid hormone action at an autocrine level. The molecular basis for the putative human 11β-HSD1 ‘knockout’ – ‘cortisone reductase deficiency’ - has recently been described, an observation that also answers a long standing conundrum relating to the set-point of 11β-HSD1 activity. In each case, these clinical studies have been underpinned by studies in vitro and the manipulation of enzyme expression in vivo using recombinant mouse models.

Free access

Marcus Quinkler, Binayak Sinha, Jeremy W Tomlinson, Iwona J Bujalska, Paul M Stewart and Wiebke Arlt

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have high circulating androgens, thought to originate from ovaries and adrenals, and frequently suffer from the metabolic syndrome including obesity. However, serum androgens are positively associated with body mass index (BMI) not only in PCOS, but also in simple obesity, suggesting androgen synthesis within adipose tissue. Thus we investigated androgen generation in human adipose tissue, including expression of 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD) isozymes, important regulators of sex steroid metabolism. Paired omental and subcutaneous fat biopsies were obtained from 27 healthy women undergoing elective abdominal surgery (age range 30–50 years; BMI 19.7–39.2 kg/m2). Enzymatic activity assays in preadipocyte proliferation cultures revealed effcient conversion of androstenedione to testosterone in both subcutaneous and omental fat. RT-PCR of whole fat and preadipocytes of subcutaneous and omental origin showed expression of 17β-HSD types 4 and 5, but no relevant expression of 17β-HSD types 1, 2, or 3. Microarray analysis confirmed this expression pattern (17β-HSD5>17β-HSD4) and suggested a higher expression of 17β-HSD5 in subcutaneous fat. Accordingly, quantitative real-time RT-PCR showed significantly higher expression of 17β-HSD5 in subcutaneous compared with omental fat (P<0.05). 17β-HSD5 expression in subcutaneous, but not omental, whole fat correlated significantly with BMI (r=0.51, P<0.05). In keeping with these findings, 17β-HSD5 expression in subcutaneous fat biopsies from six women taking part in a weight loss study decreased significantly with weight loss (P<0.05). A role for 17β-HSD5 in adipocyte differentiation was further supported by the observed increase in 17β-HSD5 expression upon differentiation of stromal preadipocytes to mature adipocytes (n=5; P<0.005), which again was higher in cells of subcutaneous origin. Functional activity of 17β-HSD5 also significantly increased with differentiation, revealing a net gain in androgen activation (androstenedione to testosterone) in subcutaneous cultures, contrasting with a net gain in androgen inactivation (testosterone to androstenedione) in omental cultures. Thus, human adipose tissue is capable of active androgen synthesis catalysed by 17β-HSD5, and increased expression in obesity may contribute to circulating androgen excess.

Open access

Lianne Abrahams, Nina M Semjonous, Phil Guest, Agnieszka Zielinska, Beverly Hughes, Gareth G Lavery and Paul M Stewart

Glucocorticoid concentrations are a balance between production under the negative feedback control and diurnal rhythm of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and peripheral metabolism, for example by the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), which catalyses the reduction of inactive cortisone (11-dehydrocorticosterone (11-DHC) in mice) to cortisol (corticosterone in mice). Reductase activity is conferred upon 11β-HSD1 by hexose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (H6PDH). 11β-HSD1 is implicated in the development of obesity, and selective 11β-HSD1 inhibitors are currently under development. We sought to address the concern regarding potential up-regulation of the HPA axis associated with inhibition of 11β-HSD1. We assessed biomarkers for allele combinations of 11β-HSD1 and H6PDH derived from double heterozygous mouse crosses. H6PDH knock out (KO) adrenals were 69% larger than WT while 11β-HSD1 KO and double KO (DKO) adrenals were ∼30% larger than WT – indicative of increased HPA axis drive in KO animals. ACTH-stimulated circulating corticosterone concentrations were 2.2-fold higher in H6PDH KO animals and ∼1.5-fold higher in 11β-HSD1 KO and DKO animals compared with WT, proportional to the observed adrenal hypertrophy. KO of H6PDH resulted in a substantial increase in urinary DHC metabolites in males (65%) and females (61%). KO of 11β-HSD1 alone or in combination with H6PDH led to significant increases (36 and 42% respectively) in urinary DHC metabolites in females only. Intermediate 11β-HSD1/H6PDH heterozygotes maintained a normal HPA axis. Urinary steroid metabolite profile by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry as a biomarker assay may be beneficial in assaying HPA axis status clinically in cases of congenital and acquired 11β-HSD1/H6PDH deficiency.

Open access

Craig L Doig, Jamila Bashir, Agnieszka E Zielinska, Mark S Cooper, Paul M Stewart and Gareth G Lavery

The activity of the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), which converts inactive cortisone (11-dehydrocorticosterone (11-DHC)) (in mice) into the active glucocorticoid (GC) cortisol (corticosterone in mice), can amplify tissue GC exposure. Elevated TNFα is a common feature in a range of inflammatory disorders and is detrimental to muscle function in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We have previously demonstrated that 11β-HSD1 activity is increased in the mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) by TNFα treatment and suggested that this is an autoregulatory anti-inflammatory mechanism. This upregulation was mediated by the P2 promoter of the Hsd11b1 gene and was dependent on the NF-κB signalling pathway. In this study, we show that in contrast to MSCs, in differentiated C2C12 and primary murine myotubes, TNFα suppresses Hsd11b1 mRNA expression and activity through the utilization of the alternative P1 promoter. As with MSCs, in response to TNFα treatment, NF-κB p65 was translocated to the nucleus. However, ChIP analysis demonstrated that the direct binding was seen at position −218 to −245 bp of the Hsd11b1 gene's P1 promoter but not at the P2 promoter. These studies demonstrate the existence of differential regulation of 11β-HSD1 expression in muscle cells through TNFα/p65 signalling and the P1 promoter, further enhancing our understanding of the role of 11β-HSD1 in the context of inflammatory disease.

Free access

Stuart A Morgan, Zaki K Hassan-Smith, Craig L Doig, Mark Sherlock, Paul M Stewart and Gareth G Lavery

The adverse metabolic effects of prescribed and endogenous glucocorticoid excess, ‘Cushing’s syndrome’, create a significant health burden. While skeletal muscle atrophy and resultant myopathy is a clinical feature, the molecular mechanisms underpinning these changes are not fully defined. We have characterized the impact of glucocorticoids upon key metabolic pathways and processes regulating muscle size and mass including: protein synthesis, protein degradation, and myoblast proliferation in both murine C2C12 and human primary myotube cultures. Furthermore, we have investigated the role of pre-receptor modulation of glucocorticoid availability by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) in these processes. Corticosterone (CORT) decreased myotube area, decreased protein synthesis, and increased protein degradation in murine myotubes. This was supported by decreased mRNA expression of insulin-like growth factor (IGF1), decreased activating phosphorylation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), decreased phosphorylation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1), and increased mRNA expression of key atrophy markers including: atrogin-1, forkhead box O3a (FOXO3a), myostatin (MSTN), and muscle-ring finger protein-1 (MuRF1). These findings were endorsed in human primary myotubes, where cortisol also decreased protein synthesis and increased protein degradation. The effects of 11-dehydrocorticosterone (11DHC) (in murine myotubes) and cortisone (in human myotubes) on protein metabolism were indistinguishable from that of CORT/cortisol treatments. Selective 11β-HSD1 inhibition blocked the decrease in protein synthesis, increase in protein degradation, and reduction in myotube area induced by 11DHC/cortisone. Furthermore, CORT/cortisol, but not 11DHC/cortisone, decreased murine and human myoblast proliferative capacity. Glucocorticoids are potent regulators of skeletal muscle protein homeostasis and myoblast proliferation. Our data underscores the potential use of selective 11β-HSD1 inhibitors to ameliorate muscle-wasting effects associated with glucocorticoid excess.

Free access

Junny Chan, Elizabeth H Rabbitt, Barbara A Innes, Judith N Bulmer, Paul M Stewart, Mark D Kilby and Martin Hewison

Glucocorticoids play a fundamental role in the endocrinology of pregnancy but excess glucocorticoids in utero may lead to abnormalities of fetal growth. Protection against fetal exposure to cortisol is provided by the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 2 (11β-HSD2) located in the human placental trophoblast. By contrast, relatively little is known concerning the function of glucocorticoid-activating 11β-HSD1, which is strongly expressed within human maternal decidua. To address this we have assessed: i) changes in decidual 11β-HSD1 expression across gestation and ii) the functional role of glucocorticoids in decidua. Human decidua was collected from women undergoing surgical termination of pregnancy in first (n = 32) and second (n = 10) trimesters, and elective caesarean sections in the third trimester (n = 9). Analysis of mRNA for 11β-HSD1 by real-time RT-PCR showed increased expression in second (9.3-fold, P < 0.01) and third (210-fold, P < 0.001) trimesters. Studies using primary cultures of decidual cells also revealed higher levels of cortisol generation in the third trimester. Changes in decidual 11β-HSD1 with gestation were paralleled by increased expression of the apoptosis markers caspase-3 and annexin-V, particularly in cluster designation (CD)10−VE non-stromal cells (20-fold in third trimester relative to first trimester). Apoptosis was also readily induced in primary cultures of third trimester decidual cells when treated with cortisol, cortisone, or dexamethasone (all 100 nM for 24 h). The effect of cortisone but not cortisol or dexamethasone was blocked by an 11β-HSD inhibitor confirming the functional significance of endogenous cortisol generation. These data show that autocrine metabolism of glucocorticoids is an important facet of the feto-placental unit in late gestation and we propose that a possible effect of this is to stimulate programmed cell death in human decidua.

Free access

Claire U Onyimba, Neelima Vijapurapu, S John Curnow, Pamela Khosla, Paul M Stewart, Philip I Murray, Elizabeth A Walker and Saaeha Rauz

The prereceptor regulation of glucocorticoids (GCs) by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-1 (11β-HSD1), a bidirectional isozyme that interconverts active (cortisol) and inactive (cortisone) GCs, is an established determinant of GC function in tissues such as liver, adipose and bone. Although the therapeutic use of GCs is abundant in ophthalmic practice, where GC interactions with nuclear receptors modulate gene transcription, the prereceptor regulation of endogenous cortisol is not well described in ocular tissues. Recent descriptive studies have localised 11β-HSD1 to the human corneal epithelium and non-pigmented epithelium (NPE) of the ciliary body, indicating a link to corneal epithelial physiology and aqueous humour production. In this study, we characterise the functional aspects of the autocrine regulation of GCs in the anterior segment of the rabbit eye. Using our in-house generated primary antibody to human 11β-HSD1, immunohistochemical analyses were performed on paraffin-embedded sections of whole New Zealand white albino rabbits, (NZWAR) eyes. As in human studies, 11β-HSD1 was localised to the corneal epithelium and the NPE. No staining was seen in the albino ‘pigmented’ ciliary epithelium. Specific enzyme assays for oxo-reductase (cortisone→cortisol) and dehydrogenase (cortisol→cortisone) activity indicated predominant 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity from both the intact ciliary body tissue (n=12, median 2.1 pmol/mg per h and range 1.25–2.8 pmol/mg per h; P=0.006) and primary cultures of corneal epithelial cells (n=12, median 3.0 pmol/mg per h and range 1.0–7.4 pmol/mg per h, P=0.008) compared with dehydrogenase activity (median 1.0 pmol/mg per h and range 0.5–2.0 pmol/mg per h; median 0.5 pmol/mg per h and range 0.25–1.9 pmol/mg per h respectively). These findings were supported by expression of 11β-HSD1 protein as visualised by Western blotting of ciliary body tissue and immunocytochemistry of corneal epithelial cells. Reduction of corneal epithelial cell proliferation was seen after primary cultures were co-incubated with cortisol and cortisone. 11β-HSD1 activity was not demonstrated in naïve conjunctival fibroblasts or corneal stromal keratocytes. Our results indicate that the distribution of 11β-HSD1 in the rabbit resembles that of the human eye and activates cortisone to cortisol in both corneal and uveal tissues. The NZWAR provides a suitable in vivo model for the further evaluation of 11β-HSD1 activity in the eye, especially its role in corneal epithelial and ciliary body physiology.

Free access

Iwona J Bujalska, Omar M Durrani, Joseph Abbott, Claire U Onyimba, Pamela Khosla, Areeb H Moosavi, Tristan T Q Reuser, Paul M Stewart, Jeremy W Tomlinson, Elizabeth A Walker and Saaeha Rauz

Glucocorticoids (GCs) have a profound effect on adipose biology increasing tissue mass causing central obesity. The pre-receptor regulation of GCs by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) that activates cortisol from cortisone has been postulated as a fundamental mechanism underlying the metabolic syndrome mediating adipocyte hyperplasia and hypertrophy in the omental (OM) depot. Orbital adipose tissue (OF) is the site of intense inflammation and tissue remodelling in several orbital inflammatory disease states. In this study, we describe features of the GC metabolic pathways in normal human OF depot and compare it with subcutaneous (SC) and OM depots. Using an automated histological characterisation technique, OF adipocytes were found to be significantly smaller (parameters: area, maximum diameter and perimeter) than OM and SC adipocytes (P<0.001). Although immunohistochemical analyses demonstrated resident CD68+ cells in all three whole tissue adipose depots, OF CD68 mRNA and protein expression exceeded that of OM and SC (mRNA, P<0.05; protein, P<0.001). In addition, there was higher expression of glucocorticoid receptor (GR)α mRNA in the OF whole tissue depot (P<0.05). Conversely, 11β-HSD1 mRNA together with the markers of late adipocyte differentiation (FABP4 and G3PDH) were significantly lower in OF. Primary cultures of OF preadipocytes demonstrated predominant 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity with minimal dehydrogenase activity. Orbital adipocytes are smaller, less differentiated, and express low levels of 11β-HSD1 but abundant GRα compared with SC and OM. OF harbours a large CD68+ population. These characteristics define an orbital microenvironment that has the potential to respond to sight-threatening orbital inflammatory disease.