Effect of the antiglucocorticoid RU486 on adrenal steroidogenic enzyme activity and steroidogenesis

B. D. Albertson, R. B. Hill, K. A. Sprague, K. E. Wood, L. K. Nieman, D. L. Loriaux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


RU486, a synthetic steroid receptor antagonist, has strong antiprogesterone and antiglucocorticoid properties. Chronic RU486 administration in two patients with ectopic secretion of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) has been associated with decreasing plasma cortisol concentrations. One explanation of this finding is that RU486 may directly inhibit adrenal steroidogenesis. To test this hypothesis, we measured the effect of RU486 on specific steroidogenic enzymatic steps using an in vivo rat and an in vitro monkey model. Hypophysectomized-castrated-ACTH-replaced Sprague-Dawley rats were given RU486 i.p. at daily doses of 0, 0.0005, 0.005, 0.05, 0.5 and 5 mg/kg body weight per day for 7 days. The animals were sacrificed, and blood and adrenal glands collected. Adrenal cortical mitochondria and microsomes were purified from the rats and from the two untreated Cynomolgus macaque monkeys. Specific steroidogenic enzyme activities were measured in the rat by the incorporation of 14C-labeled steroid substrates into products. A similar protocol was used to assay the steroidogenesis in the monkey adrenal fractions in the presence and absence of added RU486. Although rat adrenal weights decreased significantly at the highest RU486 dose, plasma levels of corticosterone were similar in control and treated rats. Rat adrenal 3β- hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/isomerase (3-HSD), 21-hydroxylase (21-OH) and 11-hydroxylase (11-OH) activities decreased with increasing RU486 doses, with 21-OH and 11-OH being most severely affected. Monkey adrenal 3-HSD, 21-OH, 11-OH, 17-hydroxylase and 17,20-desmolase similarly decreased in the presence of increasing in vitro concentrations of RU486. Taken together, these results suggest that RU486 directly inhibits adrenal steroidogenesis, with a locus of action at several key enzymatic steps in the glucocorticoid pathway. This steroidogenic blockade may account for the observed decreases in glucocorticoids during RU486 treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-200
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean journal of endocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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