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Mol Endocrinol. 2013 Oct;27(10):1593-602. doi: 10.1210/me.2012-1357. Epub 2013 Jul 26.

miR-449a contributes to glucocorticoid-induced CRF-R1 downregulation in the pituitary during stress.

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Department of Physiology, Nippon Medical School, 1-1-5, Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8602, Japan.


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is controlled by the feedback of glucocorticoids on the hypothalamus and pituitary. Stress increases CRF, ACTH, and glucocorticoid secretion. The expression of not only CRF mRNA in the hypothalamus and proopiomelanocortin mRNA in corticotrophs, but also CRF type 1 receptor (CRF-R1) mRNA and protein on corticotrophs are downregulated through glucocorticoids. However, the mechanisms underlying the glucocorticoid-induced CRF-R1 downregulation are not fully understood. Short RNA molecules, called microRNAs (miRNAs), are posttranscriptional regulators that usually induce translational repression or gene silencing via binding to complementary sequences within target mRNAs. We hypothesized that glucocorticoids may induce the expression of miRNAs in the pituitary, which are involved in glucocorticoid-induced downregulation of CRF-R1. We found 3 miRNAs with sequences predicted to bind to the CRF-R1 3' untranslated region (3'-UTR) by database search. Expression of 1 of these miRNAs (miR-449a) was significantly higher in the anterior pituitary of restrained rats than in that of unrestrained control rats. Expression of miR-449a was evident in many anterior pituitary cells, including corticotrophs. Although overexpression of miR-449a decreased CRF-R1 mRNA and CRF-R1 protein expression, knockdown of miR-449a attenuated dexamethasone-induced suppression of CRF-R1 mRNA and CRF-R1 protein expression in the monolayer-cultured pituitary cells. Notably, luciferase activity was significantly lower in cells cotransfected with a luciferase vector containing the CRF-R1 3'-UTR and a miR-449a vector. miR-449a expression was significantly increased by dexamethasone. Adrenalectomy attenuated restraint-induced increase in miR-449a expression in the pituitary. These results indicated that miR-449a plays an important role in stress-induced, glucocorticoid-mediated downregulation of CRF-R1 expression.

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