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HJ Speirs, Seckl JR, and RW Brown

Glucocorticoids play important roles in organ development and 'fetal programming'. Fetal exposure to excess glucocorticoids reduces birth weight and causes later hypertension. To investigate these processes further we have determined the detailed ontogeny in the mouse of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-1 (11beta-HSD1), which amplifies glucocorticoid levels locally; the ontogeny was determined using in situ hybridisation from embryonic day 9.5 (E9.5, term=E19) until after birth. At E9.5 fetal GR mRNA levels are very low, except in fetal placenta. GR gene expression rises during gestation with striking tissue-specific differences in timing and extent. Before E13.5, an increase is clear in gastrointestinal (GI) and upper respiratory tracts, discrete central nervous system (CNS) regions, precartilage and especially in the liver (E10.5-E12). Later, further increases occur in lung, GI and upper respiratory tracts, muscle, pituitary and thymus. In a few tissues such increases are temporary, e.g. ureteric ducts (E13.5-E16.5) and pancreas (E14.5-E16.5, expression later falling sharply). Fetal 11beta-HSD1 mRNA expression is first clearly observed at E14.5-E15, initially in the fetal placenta then in the umbilical cord. Later, 11beta-HSD1 expression is seen as follows: (i) from E15 in lung and liver, rising strongly; (ii) thymus, from E15 (lower level); (iii) at low levels in a few brain regions, including the hippocampus (E16.5+); and (iv) in muscle group fascial planes and tendon insertions. This is the first detailed study of the ontogeny of these two genes and, in combination with previous work on the ontogeny of 11beta-HSD2 and the mineralocorticoid receptor, suggests potential critical periods of glucocorticoid sensitivity during development for several organ systems.

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P MacDonald, S MacKenzie, LE Ramage, Seckl JR, and RW Brown

Corticosteroid control of distal nephron sodium handling, particularly through the amiloride-sensitive sodium channel (ENaC), has a key role in blood pressure regulation. The mechanisms regulating ENaC activity remain unclear. Despite the generation of useful mouse models of disorders of electrolyte balance and blood pressure, there has been little study of distal nephron sodium handling in this species. To investigate how corticosteroids regulate ENaC activity we isolated cDNA for the three mouse ENaC subunits (alpha, beta and gamma), enabling their quantitation by competitive PCR and in situ hybridisation. Kidneys were analysed from mice 6 days after adrenalectomy or placement of osmotic mini-pumps delivering aldosterone (50 microg/kg per day), dexamethasone (100 microg/kg per day), spironolactone (20 mg/kg per day) or vehicle alone (controls). In controls, renal ENaCalpha mRNA exceeded beta or gamma by approximately 1.75- to 2.8-fold. All subunit mRNAs were expressed in renal cortex and outer medulla, where the pattern of expression was fully consistent with localisation in collecting duct, whereas the distribution in cortex suggested expression extended beyond the collecting duct into adjacent distal tubule. Subunit mRNA expression decreased from cortex to outer medulla, with a gradual reduction in beta and gamma, and ENaCalpha decreased sharply ( approximately 50%) across the outer medulla. Expression of ENaCbeta and gamma (but not alpha) extended into inner medulla, suggesting the potential for inner medulla collecting duct cation channels in which at least ENaCbetagamma participate. Aldosterone significantly increased ENaC subunit expression; the other treatments had little effect. Aldosterone caused a 1.9- to 3.5-fold increase in ENaCalpha (particularly marked in outer medullary collecting duct), but changes for beta and gamma were minor and limited to the cortex. The results raise the possibility that medullary ENaCalpha upregulation by aldosterone will create more favourable subunit stoichiometry leading to a more substantial increase in ENaC activity. In cortex, such a mechanism is unlikely to have a major role.

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R.G. Forage, R.W. Brown, K.J. Oliver, B.T. Atrache, P.L. Devine, G.C. Hudson, N.H. Goss, K.C. Bertram, P. Tolstoshev, D.M. Robertson, D.M. de Kretser, B. Doughton, H.G. Burger, and J.K. Findlay


Seven Merino–Border Leicester cross–bred ewes were immunized with a purified fusion protein, produced by recombinant DNA methods, of the a subunit of bovine inhibin. Four animals were immunized with the fusion protein alone and three with a conjugate made by coupling the fusion protein to keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) using glutaraldehyde. Each animal received four injections of the fusion protein over 93 days. The animals were synchronized using progestagen sponges and subjected to laparoscopy for the determination of ovulation rates in two consecutive cycles (days 115 and 135). The immunized animals had overall mean ovulation rates for each cycle of 3.4 and 3.4 which was significantly (P < 0.001) above the rates of 1.1 and 1.4 determined for the controls, which had either received no treatment (n=5) or had been immunized with 300 μg KLH (n=4). Analysis of antisera taken on day 115 showed significant fusion protein antibodies and iodinated inhibin–binding capacity in the test but not control groups. Furthermore, antisera to the fusion protein in four out of seven ewes neutralized the inhibin bioactivity of ovine follicular fluid in an in–vitro bioassay. These data demonstrate that neutralization of inhibin can be effected by immunization with bovine inhibin a subunit and that such immunization results in increased ovulation rates as predicted from the biological role of inhibin as a suppressor of FSH.