Wnt/β-catenin (βcat) signaling is critical for adrenal homeostasis. To elucidate how Wnt/βcat signaling elicits homeostatic maintenance of the adrenal cortex, we characterized the identity of the adrenocortical Wnt-responsive population. We find that Wnt-responsive cells consist of sonic hedgehog (Shh)-producing adrenocortical progenitors and differentiated, steroidogenic cells of the zona glomerulosa, but not the zona fasciculata and rarely cells that are actively proliferating. To determine potential direct inhibitory effects of βcat signaling on zona fasciculata-associated steroidogenesis, we used the mouse ATCL7 adrenocortical cell line that serves as a model system of glucocorticoid-producing fasciculata cells. Stimulation of βcat signaling caused decreased corticosterone release consistent with the observed reduced transcription of steroidogenic genes Cyp11a1, Cyp11b1, Star, and Mc2r. Decreased steroidogenic gene expression was correlated with diminished steroidogenic factor 1 (Sf1; Nr5a1) expression and occupancy on steroidogenic promoters. Additionally, βcat signaling suppressed the ability of Sf1 to transactivate steroidogenic promoters independent of changes in Sf1 expression level. To investigate Sf1-independent effects of βcat on steroidogenesis, we used Affymetrix gene expression profiling of Wnt-responsive cells in vivo and in vitro. One candidate gene identified, Ccdc80, encodes a secreted protein with unknown signaling mechanisms. We report that Ccdc80 is a novel βcat-regulated gene in adrenocortical cells. Treatment of adrenocortical cells with media containing secreted Ccdc80 partially phenocopies βcat-induced suppression of steroidogenesis, albeit through an Sf1-independent mechanism. This study reveals multiple mechanisms of βcat-mediated suppression of steroidogenesis and suggests that Wnt/βcat signaling may regulate adrenal homeostasis by inhibiting fasciculata differentiation and promoting the undifferentiated state of progenitor cells.
Catecholamines are produced in chromaffin cells in the medulla of the adrenal gland, from tyrosine , a non-essential amino acid derived from food or produced from phenylalanine in the liver. The enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase converts tyrosine to L-DOPA in the first step of catecholamine synthesis. L-DOPA is then converted to dopamine before it can be turned into noradrenaline. In the cytosol , noradrenaline is converted to epinephrine by the enzyme phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) and stored in granules. Glucocorticoids produced in the adrenal cortex stimulate the synthesis of catecholamines by increasing the levels of tyrosine hydroxylase and PNMT.