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Microsc Res Tech. 2003 Jun 15;61(3):275-87.

Mechanism of action of ACTH: beyond cAMP.

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Service of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sherbrooke, 3001 12th Avenue North, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada J1H 5N4.


ACTH is the major regulator of adrenal cortex function, having acute and chronic effects on steroid synthesis and secretion. The precise molecular mechanisms by which ACTH stimulates steroid synthesis and secretion, as well as cell hypertrophy, survival, and migration are still poorly understood. Several studies have shown that ACTH action is mediated not only by cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), but also by calcium (Ca(2+)), both interacting closely through positive feedback loops to enhance steroid secretion. However, in spite of the evidence that ACTH could stimulate other signaling pathways, such as inositol phosphates and diacylglycerol or mitogenic-activated protein kinase pathway (MAPK), none is as potent as cAMP. Recent data indicate that duration and potency of the cAMP production could be modulated by several isoforms of adenylyl cyclases and phosphodiesterases. In addition, calcium is probably not a first second messenger per se; rather, there are several arguments indicating that its increase occurs following cAMP production. Finally, in addition to steroid secretion, ACTH, through cAMP, is a survival factor, protecting cells against apoptosis. All of the effects of ACTH are dependent on cytoskeleton integrity. In summary, after 30 years of intensive research in this field, cAMP remains the first obligatory second messenger of ACTH action. However, recent work emphasizes that cell environment (matrix and cytoskeleton) probably interacts with cAMP to coordinate functions other than steroid secretion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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