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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.

Open access

Stuart A Morgan, Laura L Gathercole, Zaki K Hassan-Smith, Jeremy Tomlinson, Paul M Stewart, and Gareth G Lavery

The aged phenotype shares several metabolic similarities with that of circulatory glucocorticoid excess (Cushing’s syndrome), including type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and myopathy. We hypothesise that local tissue generation of glucocorticoids by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), which converts 11-dehydrocorticosterone to active corticosterone in rodents (corticosterone to cortisol in man), plays a role in driving age-related chronic disease. In this study, we have examined the impact of ageing on glucocorticoid metabolism, insulin tolerance, adiposity, muscle strength, and blood pressure in both wildtype (WT) and transgenic male mice with a global deletion of 11β-HSD1 (11β-HSD1−/−) following 4 months high-fat feeding. We found that high fat-fed 11β-HSD1−/− mice were protected from age-related glucose intolerance and hyperinsulinemia when compared to age/diet-matched WTs. By contrast, aged 11β-HSD1−/− mice were not protected from the onset of sarcopenia observed in the aged WTs. Young 11β-HSD1−/− mice were partially protected from diet-induced obesity; however, this partial protection was lost with age. Despite greater overall obesity, the aged 11β-HSD1−/− animals stored fat in more metabolically safer adipose depots as compared to the aged WTs. Serum analysis revealed both WT and 11β-HSD1−/− mice had an age-related increase in morning corticosterone. Surprisingly, 11β-HSD1 oxo-reductase activity in the liver and skeletal muscle was unchanged with age in WT mice and decreased in gonadal adipose tissue. These data suggest that deletion of 11β-HSD1 in high fat-fed, but not chow-fed, male mice protects from age-related insulin resistance and supports a metabolically favourable fat distribution.