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J Endocrinol. 2011 Jun;209(3):327-35. doi: 10.1530/JOE-10-0493. Epub 2011 Mar 23.

The effects of ACTH on steroid metabolomic profiles in human adrenal cells.

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Department of Physiology and Surgery, Georgia Health University, Augusta, Georgia 30912, USA.


The adrenal glands are the primary source of mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and the so-called adrenal androgens. Under physiological conditions, cortisol and adrenal androgen synthesis are controlled primarily by ACTH. Although it is well established that ACTH can stimulate steroidogenesis in the human adrenal gland, the effect of ACTH on overall production of different classes of steroid hormones has not been defined. In this study, we examined the effect of ACTH on the production of 23 steroid hormones in adult adrenal primary cultures and 20 steroids in the adrenal cell line, H295R. Liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry analysis revealed that, in primary adrenal cell cultures, cortisol and corticosterone were the two most abundant steroid hormones produced with or without ACTH treatment (48  h). Cortisol production responded the most to ACTH treatment, with a 64-fold increase. Interestingly, the production of two androgens, androstenedione and 11β-hydroxyandrostenedione (11OHA), that were also produced in large amounts under basal conditions significantly increased after ACTH incubation. In H295R cells, 11-deoxycortisol and androstenedione were the major products under basal conditions. Treatment with forskolin increased the percentage of 11β-hydroxylated products, including cortisol and 11OHA. This study illustrates that adrenal cells respond to ACTH through the secretion of a variety of steroid hormones, thus supporting the role of adrenal cells as a source of both corticosteroids and androgens.

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