Steroid hormone biosynthesis in the adrenals and gonads is regulated by the steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein through its action in mediating the intramitochondrial transport of cholesterol. A role for epidermal growth factor (EGF) in modulating steroidogenesis has been previously determined, but the mechanism of its action remains unknown. The present investigation was designed to explore the potential mechanism of action of mouse EGF (mEGF) in the regulation of steroid biosynthesis and StAR protein expression in mLTC-1 mouse Leydig tumor cells. We show that treatment of mLTC-1 cells with mEGF significantly increased the levels of progesterone (P), StAR protein, and StAR mRNA in a time- and dose-dependent manner. The coordinate induction of P synthesis and StAR gene expression by mEGF was effectively inhibited by cycloheximide, indicating a requirement for de novo protein synthesis. Also, longer exposure of mLTC-1 cells to mEGF produced a marked decrease in LH-receptor mRNA expression. These effects of mEGF were exerted through high-affinity binding sites (Kd ∼ 0.53 nmol/L) in these cells. It was also determined that the arachidonic acid (especially lipoxygenase metabolites) and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways were also involved in the mEGF-induced steroidogenic response. However, involvement of the latter pathway was further assessed in nonsteroidogenic COS-1 cells transfected with the Elk1 trans-reporting plasmids and resulted in a significant increase in luciferase activity in response to mEGF. Furthermore, deletion and mutational analyses demonstrated a predominant involvement of activator protein-1 in addition to the multiple mEGF responsive elements found within the 5′-flanking region (−151/−1 base pairs) of the mouse StAR gene. These findings provide novel insights into the mEGF-induced regulatory cascades associated with steroid synthesis and StAR protein expression in mouse Leydig cells.
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