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Endocrinology. 2009 Jun;150(6):2700-8. doi: 10.1210/en.2008-1618. Epub 2009 Jan 29.

Retinoic acid reduces glucocorticoid sensitivity in C2C12 myotubes by decreasing 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 and glucocorticoid receptor activities.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Division of Molecular and Systems Toxicology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


Vitamin A is a nutrient with remarkable effects on adipose tissue and skeletal muscles, and plays a role in controlling energy balance. Retinoic acid (RA), the carboxylic form of vitamin A, has been associated with improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. In contrast, elevated glucocorticoids have been implicated in the development of insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. Here, we investigated whether RA might counteract glucocorticoid effects in skeletal muscle cells by lowering 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11beta-HSD1)-dependent local glucocorticoid activation and/or activation of glucocorticoid receptor (GR). We found a dose-dependent down-regulation of 11beta-HSD1 mRNA expression and activity upon incubation of fully differentiated mouse C2C12 myotubes with RA. In addition, RA inhibited GR transactivation by an 11beta-HSD1-independent mechanism. The presence of RA during myogenesis did not prevent myotube formation but resulted in relatively glucocorticoid-resistant myotubes, exhibiting very low 11beta-HSD1 expression and GR activity. The use of selective retinoic acid receptor (RAR) and retinoid X receptor ligands provided evidence that these effects were mediated through RARgamma. Importantly, short hairpin RNA against RARgamma abolished the effect of RA on 11beta-HSD1 and GR. In conclusion, we provide evidence for an important role of RA in the control of glucocorticoid activity during myogenesis and in myotubes. Disturbances of the nutrient and hormonal regulation of glucocorticoid action in skeletal muscles might be relevant for metabolic diseases.

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