Endocrinology Journal Article

Inflammatory Stimuli Trigger Increased Androgen Production and Shifts in Gene Expression in Theca-Interstitial Cells

October 10, 2019

Chelsea W Fox, Lingzhi Zhang, Abhishek Sohni, Manuel Doblado, Miles F Wilkinson, R Jeffrey Chang, Antoni J Duleba
Endocrinology, Volume 160, Issue 12, December 2019, Pages 2946–2958
https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2019-00588

Abstract

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common reproductive endocrine disorder characterized by theca cell hyperplasia and excessive androgen production. An increasing body of evidence has pointed to a close association between PCOS and low-grade chronic systemic inflammation. However, the mechanistic basis for this linkage is unknown. Therefore, we evaluated the effects of the inflammatory agents lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and IL-1β on rat theca-interstitial cells (TICs). We found that incubation with either LPS or IL-1β elicited a dose-dependent increase in both TIC viability and androgen production. Using RNA sequencing analysis, we found that both of these inflammatory agents also triggered profound and widespread shifts in gene expression. Using a stringent statistical cutoff, LPS and IL-1β elicited differential expression of 5201 and 5953 genes, respectively. Among the genes upregulated by both LPS and IL-1β were key regulatory genes involved in the cholesterol and androgen biosynthesis pathways, including Cyp17a1, Cyp11a1, Hsd3b, and Hmgcr. This provides a molecular explanation for the mechanism of action of inflammatory agents leading to increased androgen production. Gene ontology and pathway analysis revealed that both LPS and IL-1β regulated genes highly enriched for many common functions, including the immune response and apoptosis. However, a large number of genes (n = 2222) were also uniquely regulated by LPS and IL-1β, indicating that these inflammatory mediators have substantial differences in their mechanism of action. Together, these findings highlight the potential molecular mechanisms through which chronic low-grade inflammation contributes to the pathogenesis of androgen excess in PCOS.

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