Estrogens and corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) produced by the placenta play pivotal roles in the control of parturition in human and other primates. There is a strong correlation between maternal CRH and estrogen concentrations throughout gestation. To investigate whether CRH produced locally in the placenta could modulate estrogen production, we obtained human placental trophoblasts from uncomplicated term pregnancies and cultured them for 72 h. Cells were then treated with CRH and with a CRH receptor antagonist, alpha-helical CRH9-41. The results showed that CRH stimulated, but alpha-helical CRH9-41 inhibited, the production of estradiol in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Consistent with this thesis, CRH increased whereas alpha-helical CRH decreased the mRNA levels of STS, CYP19A1, and HSD17B1, the key enzymes for estrogen synthesis. These results suggest that, in the placenta, endogenously produced CRH exhibits a tonic stimulatory effect on estrogen production.
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