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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1999 Apr-Jun;69(1-6):131-41.

Molecular pathology and mechanism of action of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, StAR.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco 94121, USA.


The first and rate-limiting step in the synthesis of all steroid hormones is the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone by the mitochondrial enzyme, P450scc. Tropic hormones such ACTH and gonadotropins induce steroidogenesis via cAMP by elaborating intracellular cAMP which stimulates P450scc activity in two distinct ways. Chronic stimulation (h to days) occurs through the induction of P450scc gene transcription leading to increased P450scc protein and consequent increased steroidogenic capacity. Acute regulation, over minutes, occurs through the phosphorylation of preexisting StAR and the rapid synthesis of new StAR protein. StAR, the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, increases the flow of cholesterol into mitochondria, thus regulating substrate availability to whatever amount of P450scc is available. In the absence of StAR, up to 14% of maximal StAR-induced level of steroidogenesis persists as StAR-independent steroidogenesis. Congenital lipoid adrenal hyperplasia, an autosomal recessive disorder in which conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone is severely impaired, results in female genitalia in 46,XY genetic males, variable onset of a severe salt-losing crisis in the first months of life, but normal feminization and cyclical vaginal bleeding in 46,XX females. Lipoid CAH was once thought to be due to P450scc mutations, but in fact homozygous P450scc mutations cannot exist in human beings as they would prohibit placental progesterone production, causing spontaneous abortion of the affected fetus. Lipoid CAH is caused by StAR mutations, which result in tropic hormone-induced intracellular accumulation of cholesterol in the adrenals and gonads. Our two-hit model, which considers the persistence of StAR-independent steroidogenesis and the differences in the fetal and postnatal ages at which the testis, adrenal zona glomerulosa, adrenal zona fasciculata and ovary are stimulated, predicts and explains all of the various clinical manifestations of lipoid CAH. Structure function studies of StAR show that the critical domains for biological activity reside in the protein's carboxy-terminus. When the N-terminal mitochondrial targeting sequences are deleted and the resulting N-62 StAR remains in the cytoplasm, it retains the ability to stimulate steroidogenesis both in intact cells or when added to isolated mitochondria in vitro. These observations suggest that StAR acts on the outer mitochondrial membrane to promote sterol translocation to P450scc, and that the importation of StAR into mitochondria terminates its action. Data from circular dichroism and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy show that the mutant StAR proteins in lipoid CAH are misfolded, suggesting disrupted interaction with another protein. Preliminary data suggest that StAR facilitates cholesterol desorption from membranes, stimulating transfer from the outer mitochondrial (donor) membrane to the inner mitochondrial (acceptor) membrane.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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