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J Liu, AI Kahri, P Heikkila and R Voutilainen

The expression of the neuropeptide Y (NPY) gene varies considerably in human pheochromocytomas, but the mechanisms for this variation have not been clarified. To investigate the regulation pattern of the NPY gene in human pheochromocytomas, we screened 16 pheochromocytomas and 9 normal adrenal tissues with Northern blots. The expression level of NPY mRNA in normal adrenal medulla was low and relatively constant, while the pheochromocytomas showed a very wide variation in NPY mRNA levels in both malignant and benign tumors. This indicates that NPY gene expression is not correlated with malignancy in pheochromocytomas. In primary cultures of human pheochromocytoma cells, nerve growth factor treatment (causing neuronal differentiation) increased NPY mRNA accumulation 2- to 5-fold (P < 0.05). NPY mRNA levels were also induced by protein kinase modulators (Bu)(2)cAMP and staurosporine in the cultures (P < 0.05). In contrast, treatment with dexamethasone and IGF-II (causing or linked with chromaffin differentiation) reduced NPY mRNA accumulation (P < 0.05). These data show that the regulation pattern of NPY mRNA expression in cultured human pheochromocytoma cells is different from that previously described in rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cells. Regulation of NPY mRNA expression in primary cultures by these differentiating factors suggests that the expression of NPY mRNA in pheochromocytoma tissues may be associated with the neuronal differentiation of the tumor cells affected by multiple factors.

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J Liu, R Voutilainen, P Heikkila and AI Kahri

The cDNA clone pG2 was originally isolated from a human pheochromocytoma. The respective gene was found to be strongly expressed in normal adrenal zona glomerulosa and medulla, as well as in Conn's adenomas and pheochromocytomas. To shed more light on the expression and regulation of the pG2 gene, we investigated its expression in a wide variety of different adrenal neoplasms and cultured adrenal cells. Northern blot analysis was used to determine the steady state level of pG2 mRNA. Besides normal adrenals, Conn's adenomas and pheochromocytomas, we found abundant expression of pG2 mRNA in Cushing's, virilizing and nonfunctional adrenocortical adenomas and carcinomas, as well as in hyperplastic adrenals. The relative levels of pG2 mRNA in various adrenocortical tumors were not significantly different from those in normal adrenals and pheochromocytomas. In primary cultures of normal adrenal cells, treatment with adrenocorticotropin induced a 3- to 15-fold increase in the expression of pG2 mRNA (P<0.01), and this effect was reproduced by incubation with (Bu)2cAMP. In cultured pheochromocytoma cells, treatment with (Bu)2cAMP and a protein kinase inhibitor, staurosporine, increased pG2 mRNA accumulation (2- to 4-fold over the control level, P<0.01, and 3- to 8-fold, P<0.01, respectively). These results indicate that pG2 is widely expressed in normal and pathological adrenal tissues from both cortical and medullary origin, which eliminates its usefulness as a specific marker for zona glomerulosa or medullary adrenal tumors. Accumulation of pG2 mRNA is regulated by multiple differentiating factors through different pathways in primary cultures of normal adrenal and pheochromocytoma cells.

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J Liu, P Heikkila, QH Meng, AI Kahri, MJ Tikkanen and R Voutilainen

Corticosteroids are synthesized from cholesterol which may arise from de novo synthesis or from the uptake of low or high density lipoproteins (LDL or HDL). In the present study, we compared the expression and regulation patterns of LDL receptor and CLA-1 (CD36 and LIMPII Analogous-1, an HDL receptor) genes in adult human adrenocortical tissues to shed more light on the relative contribution of LDL and HDL in human adrenal steroidogenesis. By screening 64 normal and pathological adrenal samples by Northern blotting, we found a positive correlation between LDL receptor and CLA-1 mRNA expression in the adrenal tissues (r=0.547; spearman rank correlation test P<0.01). Adrenal tissues adjacent to Cushing's adenomas contained consistently less LDL receptor and CLA-1 mRNA than normal adrenals (Mann-Whitney P<0.05). In primary cultures of normal adrenal cells, accumulation of both LDL receptor and CLA-1 mRNAs was upregulated by ACTH in a dose- and time-dependent manner, with an earlier induction of LDL receptor than CLA-1 mRNA expression. (Bu)(2)cAMP also increased the levels of these two mRNAs. Addition of LDL, but not HDL, into the culture medium increased cortisol production in untreated adrenocortical cells. Both LDL and HDL enhanced ACTH-induced cortisol production, with the effect of LDL much stronger than that of HDL. Our data show that LDL receptor and CLA-1's expression is ACTH-dependent and occurs in parallel in human adrenal tissues. LDL rather than HDL may be used as the preferential source of cholesterol for steroidogenesis in human adult adrenocortical cells.