The adrenal gland of the human fetus (HFA) is relatively large compared to that of the adult and exhibits an extremely high rate of steroidogenesis both in vivo and in vitro. The fetal zone cells make up 80âÂ€Â“85% of the volume of the HFA and are the major site of steroid production during fetal development. We have recently demonstrated that calcium is involved in the regulation of steroidogenesis in fetal zone cells of the HFA. There is considerable evidence that many actions of calcium within cells are mediated by the calcium-binding protein calmodulin. The purpose of the present investigation was to determine if calmodulin also plays a role in HFA steroidogenesis. To investigate this possibility, the fetal zone was dissected from fetal adrenals of first and second trimester human abortuses. After collagenase digestion of the tissue, dispersed fetal zone cells were maintained in a Krebs-Ringers medium at 37 C for a 3-h incubation. Cells were incubated with and without ACTH (10-8 M) in the presence of the calmodulin inhibitors trifluoperazine (TFP), chlorpromazine (CPZ), and calmidazolium (CAL) at concentrations of 5âÂ€Â“100 fiM. The media were assayed for contents of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DS), cortisol (F), pregnenolone, and cAMP by RIA. The addition of ACTH stimulated F secretion 5- to 10-fold compared to that in control fetal zone cells. DS secretion increased up to 5-fold and pregnenolone about 2-fold in the presence of ACTH compared to values in control cells. ACTH also stimulated cAMP secretion by 10-fold compared to that in control cells. The addition of TFP, CPZ, and CAL significantly inhibited ACTH-stimulated DS, F, and pregnenolone secretion in a dose-related fashion to near-control levels. We observed that TFP, CPZ, and CAL inhibited cAMP accumulation as well as Bu2cAMP-stimulated steroid secretion. The metabolism of 22R-hydroxycholesterol to pregnenolone was inhibited by TFP and CPZ, but not by CAL. These studies suggest that calmodulin plays a role in regulating steroidogenesis in fetal zone cells of the HFA.
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