Glucocorticoid (GC) treatment in childhood can lead to suppression of longitudinal growth as a side effect. The actions of GCs are thought to be mediated in part by impaired action of the insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II) and their binding proteins (IGFBP-1 to -6). We have studied the effects of GCs on IGF and IGFBP expression at the local level of the growth plate, using non-radioactive in situ hybridization. We treated 3-week-old normal mice for 4 weeks with dexamethasone (DXM). We also treated human IGF-II (hIGF-II) transgenic mice in order to investigate whether IGF-II could protect against the growth retarding effect of this GC. DXM treatment resulted in general growth retardation in both mice strains, however, only in normal mice was tibial length decreased. In both normal and hIGF-II trangenic mice, the total width of the growth plate was not affected, whereas the width of the proliferative zone decreased as a result of the DXM treatment. Additionally, only in normal mice, the width of the hypertrophic zone thickened. Only expression of IGF-I, IGF-II and IGFBP-2 could be detected in the growth plates of 7-week-old normal mice. IGFBP-1, -3, -4, -5 and -6 mRNAs were not detected. DXM treatment of normal mice induced a significant 2.4-fold increase in the number of cells expressing IGF-I mRNA, whereas IGF-II and IGFBP-2 mRNA levels were not affected. In hIGF-II transgenic mice, IGF-I mRNA levels were significantly increased, while endogenous IGF-II and IGFBP-2 mRNAs were unaffected, compared to normal animals. DXM treatment of the hIGF-II transgenic mice induced a further increase of IGF-I mRNA expression, to a similar extent as in DXM-treated normal mice. The increase of IGF-I due to DXM treatment in normal mice might be a reaction in order to minimize the GC-induced growth retardation. Another possibility could be that the increase of IGF-I would contribute to the GC-induced growth retardation by accelerating the differentiation of chondrocytes, resulting in accelerated ossification. In the growth plates of hIGF-II transgenic mice, the higher basal level of IGF-I, might be responsible for the observed partial protection against the adverse effects of GCs on bone.
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