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Endocrinology. 2015 Mar;156(3):1066-79. doi: 10.1210/en.2014-1686. Epub 2015 Jan 5.

Mechanisms involved in glucocorticoid induction of pituitary GH expression during embryonic development.

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Molecular and Cell Biology Program (L.E.E, T.E.P.) and Department of Animal and Avian Sciences (L.E.E., S.A.P., T.E.P.), University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742.


Glucocorticoid hormones are involved in functional differentiation of GH-producing somatotrophs. Glucocorticoid treatment prematurely induces GH expression in mammals and birds in a process requiring protein synthesis and Rat sarcoma (Ras) signaling. The objective of this study was to investigate mechanisms through which glucocorticoids initiate GH expression during embryogenesis, taking advantage of the unique properties of chicken embryos as a developmental model. We determined that stimulation of GH expression occurred through transcriptional activation of GH, rather than enhancement of mRNA stability, and this process requires histone deacetylase activity. Through pharmacological inhibition, we identified the ERK1/2 pathway as a likely downstream Ras effector necessary for glucocorticoid stimulation of GH. However, we also found that chronic activation of ERK1/2 activity with a constitutively active mutant or stimulatory ligand reduced initiation of GH expression by glucocorticoid treatment. Corticosterone treatment of cultured embryonic pituitary cells increased ERK1/2 activity in an apparent cyclical manner, with a rapid increase within 5 minutes, followed by a reduction to near-basal levels at 3 hours, and a subsequent increase again at 6 hours. Therefore, we conclude that ERK1/2 signaling must be strictly controlled for maximal glucocorticoid induction of GH to occur. These results are the first in any species to demonstrate that Ras- and ERK1/2-mediated transcriptional events requiring histone deacetylase activity are involved in glucocorticoid induction of pituitary GH during embryonic development. This report increases our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying glucocorticoid recruitment of somatotrophs during embryogenesis and should provide insight into glucocorticoid-induced developmental changes in other tissues and cell types.

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