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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Nov;84(11):4220-7.

Lymphocytes stimulate dehydroepiandrosterone production through direct cellular contact with adrenal zona reticularis cells: a novel mechanism of immune-endocrine interaction.

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Developmental Endocrinology Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Adrenal androgen production was reduced by 80% in patients receiving T lymphocyte-suppressive medications compared to that in age-matched controls. In vitro, however, neither tacrolimus nor cyclosporin A reduced dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) release by adrenocortical cells. Therefore, we examined the potential role of lymphocytes in adrenal androgen production, using cocultures of human T lymphocytes and adrenocortical primary or transformed cells. Co-cultures led to a 4-fold elevation of DHEA levels (490.4 +/- 94.8% over basal), which was greater than the increase observed after the addition of maximal concentrations of ACTH (117.4 +/- 14.8%). Separation of cells by semipermeable membranes abolished this effect, and transfer of leukocyte-conditioned medium had little androgen-stimulating effect. These data suggested that the observed stimulation of androgen secretion required cell contact rather than soluble paracrine factor(s). Furthermore, we examined human adrenal glands for the presence of T lymphocytes and contact between these cells and steroid-secreting cells of the zona reticularis. Indeed, T lymphocytes expressing CD4 and CD8 antigens were present within human adrenal zona reticularis by immunohistochemical subtyping. Electron microscopic analyses demonstrated direct cell-cell contact between T lymphocytes and adrenocortical cells in situ. This study provides evidence for a novel mechanism of immune-endocrine interactions of direct T lymphocyte-adrenocortical cell contact-mediated stimulation of adrenal androgen secretion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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