Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are a class of large lipoprotein synthesized in the liver. The key function of VLDL, in vivo, is to carry triglyceride from the liver to adipose tissue. As a steroidogenic organ, the adrenal gland mainly uses lipoproteins as sources of cholesterol. Although VLDL receptors have been detected in the human adrenal, the function of VLDL in the adrenal gland remains unknown. Herein, we used primary cultures of human and bovine adrenal cells and the adrenocortical cell line H295R as models to determine the effects of VLDL on adrenal steroidogenesis. Our studies revealed that VLDL significantly increased aldosterone synthesis in all of the models tested. This increase was largely due to VLDL's stimulation of the expression of steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein and aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2). VLDL increased CYP11B2 mRNA expression in a concentration-dependent manner. Effects of VLDL on CYP11B2 transcript levels were not additive with angiotensin II or potassium but were additive with the cAMP pathway agonists ACTH and forskolin. Nifedipine completely inhibited the effects of VLDL on CYP11B2 mRNA, suggesting that calcium is the main signal transduction pathway used by VLDL in adrenal cells. Indeed, VLDL increased cytosolic free calcium levels. An in vivo study conducted in sucrose-fed rats showed a positive correlation between elevated triglyceride (VLDL) levels in plasma and CYP11B2 expression in the adrenal. In conclusion, we have shown that VLDL can stimulate aldosterone synthesis in adrenocortical cells by increasing StAR and CYP11B2 expression, an event likely mediated by a calcium-initiated signaling cascade.
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