Pituitary-directed medical treatment for Cushing’s disease (CD) is currently represented by membrane receptor targeting drugs (somatostatin analogs and dopamine agonists). Somatostatin and dopamine receptors are regulated by β-arrestins, which have been shown to be differentially regulated by glucocorticoids in non-neuroendocrine cells. In this study we investigated the effects of glucocorticoids on β-arrestin expression in corticotroph tumor cells. First, AtT20 cells, a mouse model of CD, were exposed to dexamethasone (Dex) at different time points and β-arrestin expression was evaluated at mRNA and protein level. Futhermore, β-arrestin mRNA expression was evaluated in 17 human corticotroph adenoma samples and correlated to patients’ pre-operative cortisol level. We observed that Dex treatment induced a time dependent increase in β-arrestin 1 mRNA expression and a decrease in β-arrestin 2. The same modulation pattern was observed at protein level. Dex-mediated modulation of β-arrestins was abolished by co-treatment with mifepristone, and Dex withdrawal restored β-arrestin expression to basal levels after 72h. The evaluation of β-arrestin mRNA in corticotroph adenomas from CD patients with variable disease activity showed a significant positive correlation between β-arrestin 1 mRNA and urinary cortisol levels. The effect of glucocorticoids on β-arrestin levels was confirmed by the analysis of two samples from a single patient, which underwent adenomectomy twice, with different pre-operative cortisol levels. In conclusion, glucocorticoids induce an inverse modulation of the two β-arrestin isofoms in corticotroph tumor cells. Since β-arrestins regulate membrane receptor functions, this finding may help to better understand the variable response to pituitary-targeting drugs in patients with Cushing’s disease.
Federico Gatto, R A Feelders, Rob van der Pas, P M van Koetsveld, Eleonora Bruzzone, Marica Arvigo, Fadime Dogan, Steven W Lamberts, Diego Ferone and Leo Hofland
R van der Pas, L J Hofland, J Hofland, A E Taylor, W Arlt, J Steenbergen, P M van Koetsveld, W W de Herder, F H de Jong and R A Feelders
The antifungal agent ketoconazole is often used to suppress cortisol production in patients with Cushing's syndrome (CS). However, ketoconazole has serious side effects and is hepatotoxic. Here, the in vitro effects of ketoconazole and fluconazole, which might be less toxic, on human adrenocortical steroidogenesis were compared. The effects on steroidogenesis were examined in primary cultures of nine human adrenocortical tissues and two human adrenocortical carcinoma cell lines. Moreover, the effects on mRNA expression levels of steroidogenic enzymes and cell growth were assessed. Ketoconazole significantly inhibited 11-deoxycortisol (H295R cells; maximum inhibition 99%; EC50 0.73 μM) and cortisol production (HAC15 cells; 81%; EC50 0.26 μM and primary cultures (mean EC50 0.75 μM)). In cultures of normal adrenal cells, ketoconazole increased pregnenolone, progesterone, and deoxycorticosterone levels, while concentrations of 17-hydroxypregnenolone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 11-deoxycortisol, DHEA, and androstenedione decreased. Fluconazole also inhibited 11-deoxycortisol production in H295R cells (47%; only at 1 mM) and cortisol production in HAC15 cells (maximum inhibition 55%; EC50 35 μM) and primary cultures (mean EC50 67.7 μM). In the cultures of normal adrenals, fluconazole suppressed corticosterone, 17-hydroxypregnenolone, and androstenedione levels, whereas concentrations of progesterone, deoxycorticosterone, and 11-deoxycortisol increased. Fluconazole (1 mM) slightly increased STAR mRNA expression in both cell lines. Neither compound affected mRNA levels of other steroidogenic enzymes or cell number. In conclusion, by inhibiting 11β-hydroxylase and 17-hydroxylase activity, pharmacological concentrations of fluconazole dose dependently inhibit cortisol production in human adrenocortical cells in vitro. Although fluconazole seems less potent than ketoconazole, it might become an alternative for ketoconazole to control hypercortisolism in CS. Furthermore, patients receiving fluconazole because of mycosis might be at risk for developing adrenocortical insufficiency.