Glucocorticoids can induce somatotroph differentiation in vitro and in vivo during chick embryonic and rat fetal development. In the present study, we identified the nuclear receptors involved in somatotroph differentiation and examined their ontogeny and cellular distribution during pituitary development in the chicken embryo. Several steroids were tested for their ability to induce GH cell differentiation. Only glucocorticoids and aldosterone were effective at low nanomolar concentrations, suggesting involvement of both type I (mineralocorticoid) and type II (glucocorticoid) receptors (MR and GR, respectively). ZK98299 and spironolactone (GR and MR antagonists, respectively) when used alone were unable to block corticosterone or aldosterone (2 nM)-induced somatotroph differentiation. However, ZK98299 and spironolactone in combination abolished corticosterone or aldosterone (2 nM)-induced somatotroph differentiation. When used separately, both antagonists attenuated induction of GH mRNA by corticosterone. Spironolactone alone blocked somatotroph differentiation induced by 0.2 nM corticosterone or aldosterone, indicating that corticosteroids at subnanomolar concentrations act only through the MR. GR protein was detected in pituitary extracts as early as embryonic d 8, whereas MR protein was readily detectable only around d 12. GR were expressed in greater than 95% of all pituitary cells, whereas MR were expressed in about 40% of all pituitary cells. Dual-label immunofluorescence revealed that the majority of somatotrophs on d 12 expressed MR. Given the high affinity of corticosteroids for MR and that corticosteroid concentrations during embryonic development are in the subnanomolar range, expression of MR may constitute a significant developmental event during somatotroph differentiation.
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