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J Cell Biochem. 2011 Jun;112(6):1499-505. doi: 10.1002/jcb.23081.

Keratinocytes synthesize and activate cortisol.

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Department of Oral and Dental Science, University of Bristol, Lower Maudlin Street, Bristol BS1 2LY, UK.


The bioavailability of circulating and/or endogenous hydrocortisone (cortisol) in epidermal cells is a key determinant in inflammatory disease and chronic wounds. It is not known, however, whether epidermal cells can regulate tissue cortisol and whether they are capable of producing endogenous glucocorticoids. In the present study, we show by microarray analysis that epidermal cells express mRNAs to all the major enzymes involved in the metabolic chain from cholesterol to cortisol, including cytocrome P450 chain, 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (HSD11Bs), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) receptor (MC2R), and glucocorticoid receptor. The two enzymes mediating activation/deactivation of cortisone to cortisol, namely HSD11B1 and HSD11B2, were expressed at the protein level in cultured keratinocytes as well as human skin samples, as shown by Western blotting and immunohistochemistry, respectively. In functional assays, we show that keratinocytes are not only able to activate cortisone to cortisol in a HSD11B-dependent manner but also silencing of either HSD11B1 or HSD11B2 specifically modulates the bioavailability of the inactive glucocorticoid and the active steroid, respectively. A further key observation was that keratinocytes responded to stimulation with ACTH by a significant increase in the de novo synthesis of cortisol. Taken together, we provide evidence for a novel non-adrenal steroideal system in human keratinocytes.

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