Activin and inhibin are structurally related dimeric glycoproteins belonging to the transforming growth factor-β superfamily of proteins which are synthesized and secreted by the granulosa cells of the ovary. Although initially characterized by their ability to influence FSH secretion from pituitary cells, paracrine regulatory roles of these factors on neighboring ovarian theca interna have been suggested. While inhibin has been shown to increase and activin to decrease the production of androgens, the mechanisms of action are not well defined, partly due to difficulties in obtaining adequate numbers of thecal cells from individual patients or animal models. Using a unique human ovarian thecal-like tumor (HOTT) cell culture model system we investigated the biochemical and molecular mechanisms controlling C19 steroidogenesis and the effects of activin and inhibin on the activity and expression of key ovarian thecal steroidogenic enzymes, cholesterol side-chain cleavage cytochrome P450 (P450scc), 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD) and 17α-hydroxylase/17,20 lyase cytochrome P450 (P450c17). Steroid production, level of steroidogenic enzyme mRNA expression, and enzyme activity following treatment with forskolin, inhibin-A and activin-A were examined. Basal steroid production, enzyme activities, and steroidogenic enzyme mRNA levels were not markedly different following treatment with activin (25 ng/ml) or inhibin (25 ng/ml) alone. Forskolin (10 μM) markedly increased production of both androstenedione (fivefold) and progesterone (threefold) as well as the activity of 3βHSD (sevenfold), and P450c17 (sevenfold) over basal. Forskolin stimulated the expression of mRNA for P450scc (fourfold), 3βHSD (threefold), and P450c17 (eightfold) over basal. Androstenedione accumulation was decreased by 60% in the forskolin plus activin group compared with forskolin alone, while progesterone production was maintained. This was attributed to a reduction of P450c17 mRNA (45% of forskolin alone) and activity (45% of forskolin alone). In contrast, co-treatment with forskolin and inhibin increased androstenedione production by 40% while decreasing progesterone by 40% compared with forskolin alone. Concomitantly, this was associated with a higher P450c17 mRNA expression (1.5-fold) and activity (twofold) but with minimal effects on the mRNA for 3βHSD and P450scc. HOTT cell responses to activin (0.05-50 ng/ml) and inhibin (0.05-50 ng/ml) in the presence of forskolin demonstrated dose-dependent effects on the steroid accumulation, enzymatic activity and mRNA expression of P450c17. Additionally, the differences seen on mRNA expression of steroidogenic enzymes in response to these factors were time-dependent In summary, forskolin stimulated C19 steroid production from HOTT cells by increasing the expression of all steroidogenic enzymes examined. Inhibin and activin exerted differential effects on the expression of these enzymes which resulted in alterations in the steroid profile toward production of C19 steroids in the case of inhibin and away from C19 steroids in the case of activin. The influence of these important intraovarian factors on the expression of P450c17, a pivotal enzyme in thecal cell production of C19 steroids, could impact greatly on the follicular milieu of a normal developing follicle as well as in pathophysiological disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism