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A. I. Kahri, R. Voutilainen and M. Salmenperä

ABSTRACT

The effects of corticosterone and cortisol in concentrations attainable in the adrenal gland were studied on ACTH-induced steroidogenesis in cultured cortical cells of foetal human and rat adrenals. Corticosterone at a concentration of 5.8 × 10−5 mol/l clearly inhibited cortisol production (65.5%; P < 0.005) and simultaneously increased androgen production in tissue culture of foetal human adrenals. Cortisol at a concentration of 2.8 × 10−4 mol/l clearly inhibited 18-OH-DOC (74.0 %, P < 0.001) and aldosterone (83.7 % P < 0.005) production in tissue culture of foetal rat adrenals. In primary culture of foetal human adrenals cortisol did not decrease aldosterone production absolutely, but it significantly decreased the relative amount of aldosterone with respect to corticosterone. Cortisol did not inhibit corticosterone production in either culture.

The results demonstrate that cortisol and corticosterone have qualitatively different effects on adrenal steroidogenesis and that these steroids may play a basic role in the functional zonation of the adrenal gland.

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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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S Tenhola, B Todorova, J Jääskeläinen, O A Jänne, T Raivio and R Voutilainen

Objectives

Altered glucocorticoid activity is one possible mechanism linking fetal growth restriction with later insulin resistance (IR) and type 2 diabetes. We aimed to investigate whether serum glucocorticoid parameters are related to IR in children born small for gestational age (SGA).

Design

A total of 110 children (55 age- and gender-matched pairs born SGA or appropriate for gestational age (AGA) in a case–control setting) were studied at the mean age of 12.2 (s.d. 0.2) years.

Methods

Serum cortisol, corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), free cortisol index (FCI=cortisol/CBG), and glucocorticoid bioactivity (GBA, transactivation assay) were analyzed and related to serum adiponectin and insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 1 (IGFBP1) concentrations and homeostasis model assessment for IR (HOMA-IR) and QUICKI indices.

Results

In the pooled study population, GBA correlated well with cortisol and FCI (r=0.681 and 0.586 respectively; P<0.001 for both). Serum cortisol, CBG, FCI, GBA, HOMA-IR, or QUICKI did not differ between the SGA and AGA subjects, but the SGA children had lower body mass index (P=0.005) and waist circumference (WC) (P=0.001). The mean GBA in the highest GBA quartile was higher among the SGA subjects than among the AGA subjects (138.6 vs 96.4 nmol/l cortisol equivalents, P<0.001). In the SGA children, GBA correlated positively with HOMA-IR (r=0.522, P<0.001) and inversely with adiponectin (r=−0.278, P=0.042) (WC/height ratio adjustments), and in logistic regression analysis, higher GBA (odds ratio (OR) 1.3; P=0.013), lower adiponectin (OR 1.4; P=0.038), and lower IGFBP1 (OR 1.9; P=0.010) associated independently with higher HOMA-IR.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that increased glucocorticoid activity and low serum adiponectin concentrations associate with IR in SGA children.

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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.

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S Kannisto, A Laatikainen, A Taivainen, K Savolainen, H Tukiainen and R Voutilainen

OBJECTIVE: Supraphysiological doses of exogenous glucocorticosteroids cause adrenocortical suppression. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) is the most abundant adrenal androgen and estrogen precursor. We studied to what extent inhaled glucocorticosteroid therapy for asthma decreases serum DHEA-S concentrations. DESIGN AND METHODS: We measured serum DHEA-S and cortisol concentrations in 101 adult patients with newly detected mild asthma before and after 2 and 12 weeks of treatment with inhaled glucocorticosteroids. The patients were randomized to receive budesonide 200 microg/day (low dose group, n=50) or 800 microg/day (high dose group, n=51) in two parallel groups double-blindly. RESULTS: In the low dose group, serum DHEA-S concentrations decreased from the baseline by a mean of 8 % (95 % confidence interval (CI), 3-13 %, P<0.01) after 2 weeks of therapy, and by 2 % (95 % CI, 9 % decrease to 5 % increase, NS) after 12 weeks. In the high dose group, the respective decreases were 16 % (95 % CI, 10-21 %, P<0.001) and 18 % (95 % CI, 12-24 %, P<0.001). The difference between the treatment groups was significant at both 2 and 12 weeks. During the 12 week treatment period the baseline concentrations of serum cortisol did not decrease in the low dose group, while in the high dose group the decrease was significant at 12 weeks (P<0.01), but not at 2 weeks. The forced expiratory volume in 1 s improved equally well in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: Inhaled budesonide decreased serum DHEA-S concentrations, which may indicate adrenocortical suppression. Reduced adrenal production of androgen and estrogen precursors may increase the risk of osteoporosis especially in postmenopausal women.