Corticotropin-releasing hormone directly stimulates cortisol and the cortisol biosynthetic pathway in human fetal adrenal cells

Rosa Sirianni, Khurram S. Rehman, Bruce R. Carr, C. Richard Parker, William E. Rainey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Near term the human fetal adrenals (HFAs) initiate production of cortisol, which promotes organ maturation and acts to increase placental CRH biosynthesis. The objective of the present study was to determine whether CRH directly stimulates both cortisol production and expression of the steroidogenic enzymes in HFA-definitive zone cells. CRH stimulated the production of cortisol in a time- and dose-dependent manner, with an effective concentration of as low as 0.01 nM. In real-time RT-PCR experiments, CRH treatment increased the mRNA levels of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein and each of the enzymes needed to produce cortisol. CRH induced 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II (HSD3B2) by 34-fold, 21-hydroxylase (CYP21) by 55-fold, and 11β-hydroxylase by 41-fold. Induction of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, cholesterol side chain cleavage (CYP11A), and 17α-hydroxylase (CYP17) mRNA by CRH was 6-, 4-, and 6-fold, respectively. We also demonstrated that submaximal concentrations of CRH (30 pM) and ACTH (30 pM) that are seen in fetal circulation were additive on cortisol biosynthesis and 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II mRNA induction. We suggest that CRH may play an important role in the late gestational rise in cortisol secretion from the HFAs, which may serve to augment placental CRH production and therefore participate in the endocrine cascade that is involved in fetal organ maturation and potentially in the timing of human parturition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-285
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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