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Mol Biol Cell. 2000 Jul;11(7):2283-95.

Progesterone synthesized by Schwann cells during myelin formation regulates neuronal gene expression.

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Department of Biochemistry and Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


Previously, progesterone was found to regulate the initiation and biosynthetic rate of myelin synthesis in Schwann cell/neuronal cocultures. The mRNA for cytochrome P450scc (converts cholesterol to pregnenolone), 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3beta-HSD, converts pregnenolone to progesterone), and the progesterone receptor were found to be markedly induced during active myelin synthesis. However, the cells in the cocultures responsible for these changes were not identified. In this study, in situ hybridization was used to determine the localization of the enzymes responsible for steroid biosynthesis. The mRNA for cytochrome P450scc and 3beta-HSD were detected only in actively myelinating cocultures and were localized exclusively in the Schwann cells. Using immunocytochemistry, with minimal staining of the Schwann cells, we found the progesterone receptor in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons. The progesterone receptor in the neurons translocated into the nuclei of these cells when progesterone was added to neuronal cultures or during myelin synthesis in the cocultures. Additionally, a marked induction of the progesterone receptor was found in neuronal cultures after the addition of progesterone. The induction of various genes in the neurons was also investigated using mRNA differential display PCR in an attempt to elucidate the mechanism of steroid action on myelin synthesis. Two novel genes were induced in neuronal cultures by progesterone. These genes, along with the progesterone receptor, were also induced in cocultures during myelin synthesis, and their induction was blocked by RU-486 (a progesterone receptor antagonist). These genes were not induced in Schwann cells cultured alone after the addition of progesterone. These results suggest that progesterone is synthesized in Schwann cells and that it can indirectly regulate myelin formation by activating transcription via the classical steroid receptor in the DRG neurons.

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