As gestation progresses, human fetal adrenals (HFA) initiate the production of cortisol, which increases placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) biosynthesis. While adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) is important for the onset of cortisol production, the late gestational surge in cortisol production occurs despite falling ACTH levels in the fetal circulation. The authors determine if CRH directly regulates the expression of the ACTH receptor (ACTHR) in HFA definitive/transitional zone (DZ/TZ) cells. DZ/TZ cells isolated from midgestation HFA were cultured before treatment with 0.01 nM to 100 nM CRH or ACTH. Cortisol was measured by radioimmunoassay. Real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction was used to measure ACTHR mRNA. Whole-cell ACTH binding studies were performed using I125 (Tyr-23) ACTH. CRH produced a dose-dependent rise in cortisol production and caused a time-dependent increase in ACTHR mRNA levels between 12 and 24 hours. As little as 0.1 nM CRH induced ACTHR transcript by 12-fold at 24 hours. Together with ACTH 0.01 nM, 0.03 or 0.1 nM CRH increased ACTHR expression more than ACTH alone. Binding assays demonstrated a 3.5-fold increase in ACTHR protein at 48 hours with combined CRH and ACTH treatment. Physiologic levels of CRH seen in the late-gestation fetus stimulate DZ/TZ ACTHR expression. Since placental CRH production increases strikingly near the end of gestation, the authors suggest that CRH-induced ACTH receptor expression may increase TZ responsiveness to circulating ACTH and contribute to the late gestational rise in cortisol secretion by the HFA, participating in an endocrine cascade that is involved in fetal organ maturation and potentially in the timing of human parturition.
- Adrenocorticotrophic hormone receptor
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone
- Human fetal adrenal
- Melanocortin 2 receptor
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Obstetrics and Gynecology