11 β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD) catalyses the reversible metabolism of corticosterone to inert 11-dehydrocorticosterone. At least two isoforms exist. 11β-HSD-1, the first to be characterised and the only isoform for which a cDNA has been isolated, is highly expressed in liver, kidney and hippocampus. The activity of 11β-HSD in rat liver is higher in males, due to oestrogen repression of 11β-HSD-1 gene transcription in females. Sexual dimorphism in rodent liver proteins is frequently mediated indirectly via sex-specific patterns of GH release (continuous in females, pulsatile in males). We have now investigated whether this applies to 11β-HSD, using dwarf rats (congenitally deficient in GH) and hypophysectomised animals.
11β-HSD activity and 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression in liver was significantly lower in control female than male rats (50% and 72% of male levels respectively). These sex differences in the liver were attenuated in dwarf rats, with both males and females showing similar levels of 11 β-HSD activity to control males. Administration of continuous (female pattern) GH to dwarf male rats decreased hepatic 11β-HSD activity (30% fall) and mRNA expression (77% fall), whereas the same total daily dose of GH given in the male (pulsatile) pattern had no effect on hepatic 11 β-HSD in female dwarf rats. Continuous GH also attenuated hepatic 11 β-HSD activity (25% fall) and 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression (82% fall) in hypophysectomised animals. However, oestradiol itself suppressed hepatic 11β-HSD activity (25% fall) and 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression (60% fall) in hypophysectomised rats.
Renal 11 β-HSD activity showed no sexual dimorphism in control or dwarf rats, although overall activity was lower in dwarf animals. By contrast, 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression was higher in male than female kidney in both control and dwarf strains. Neither GH pattern had any effect on 11β-HSD activity or 11β-HSD-1 mRNA levels in the kidney of dwarf rats, although continuous GH attenuated 11β-HSD activity (28% fall) and 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression in kidney (47% decrease) in hypophysectomised animals. Oestradiol attenuated renal 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression (74% fall) in hypophysectomised rats, but increased enzyme activity (62% rise) in the kidney. None of the manipulations had any effect on hippocampal 11 β-HSD activity or gene expression.
These data demonstrate the following. (i) Sexual dimorphism of hepatic 11β-HSD is mediated, in part, via sex-specific patterns of GH secretion acting on 11β-HSD-1 gene expression. (ii) There is an additional direct repressive effect of oestrogen on hepatic 11β-HSD-1. (iii) Other tissue-specific factors are involved in regulating 11β-HSD-1, as neither peripheral GH nor oestrogen have effects upon hippocampal 11β-HSD-1. (iv) The regulation of 11β-HSD-1 mRNA expression in the kidney broadly parallels the liver. The lack of correlation between changes in expression of the 11β-HSD-1 gene and renal 11β-HSD activity reflects the presence of an additional gene product(s) in the kidney, the expression of which is largely independent of GH.