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Endocrinology. 1998 Apr;139(4):1789-93.

Penetration of dexamethasone into brain glucocorticoid targets is enhanced in mdr1A P-glycoprotein knockout mice.

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Division of Medical Pharmacology of the Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


Mice with a genetic disruption of the multiple drug resistance (mdr1a) gene were used to examine the effect of the absence of its drug-transporting P-glycoprotein product from the blood-brain barrier on the distribution and cell nuclear uptake of [3H]-dexamethasone in the brain. [3H]-dexamethasone (4 microg/kg mouse) was administered s.c. to adrenalectomized mdr1a (-/-) and mdr1a (+/+) mice. One hour later, the mice were decapitated, and the radioactivity was measured in homogenates of cerebellum, blood, and liver following extraction of the radioactive steroid. The frontal brain was cut in sections for autoradiography. In the cerebellum of the mdr1a mutants, the amount of [3H]-dexamethasone relative to blood was about 5-fold higher than observed in the controls, whereas the ratio in blood vs. liver was not different. Using autoradiography, it was found that brain areas expressing the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in high abundance, such as the hippocampal cell fields and the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), showed a 10-fold increase in cell nuclear uptake of radiolabeled steroid. The amount of retained steroid increased toward levels observed in the pituitary, which contains a similar density of GRs. The [3H]-dexamethasone concentration in pituitary was not affected by mdr1a gene disruption. The GR messenger RNA expression pattern in hippocampus was not different between the wild types and mdr1a mutants, which rules out altered receptor expression as a cause of the enhanced dexamethasone uptake. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that the brain is resistant to penetration by dexamethasone because of mdr1a activity at the level of the blood-brain barrier. The data support the concept of a pituitary site of action of dexamethasone in blockade of stress-induced ACTH release. Dexamethasone poorly substitutes for depletion of the endogenous glucocorticoid from the brain and therefore, in this tissue, may cause a condition resembling that of adrenalectomy.

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