The steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) participates in steroidogenesis through the mitochondrial transfer of cholesterol to cytochrome P450scc. The rat adrenal Star gene is transcribed as a 3.5- kilobase pair (kb) and 1.6-kb mRNA with the larger mRNA predominating (~85% of total) in vivo. Hypophysectomy (HPX) produced a 3-5-fold decrease in Star mRNA along with a loss of adrenal steroids, whereas P450scc mRNA decreased by less than 2-fold. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) treatment of HPX rats maximally stimulated steroidogenesis rates within 5 min with over 10-fold elevation of steady state blood levels occurring within 10 min. For intact rats there was a 5 - 10-fold larger increase, paralleling previously observed elevations of cholesterol-cytochrome P450scc association and metabolism in subsequently isolated adrenal mitochondria. ACTH did not increase either total STAR protein or a group of modified forms until at least 30 min after completion of acute stimulation, indicating that elevated translation of STAR protein cannot alone mediate this acute stimulation. Parallel slow changes in STAR protein and corticosterone formation after ACTH treatment are consistent with participation of STAR forms as co-regulators of these hormonal responses. ACTH stimulation of HPX rats increased Star mRNA by 2.5-fold within 20 min and by 4.5-fold after 1 h, thus preceding the rise in the STAR protein. A 3.5-kb Star cDNA clone isolated from a rat adrenal cDNA library exhibited a 0.9-kb open reading frame and a 2.5-kb 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR). The open reading frame sequence differed only 12 amino acids from that of the mouse Star. The rat Star gene seven exons with exon 7 encoding the entire 2.5 kb of 3'-UTR of the 3.5-kb mRNA. The 3'-UTR sequence suggests that 1.6- and 3.5-kb mRNA are formed by an alternative usage of different polyadenylation signals. Multiple UUAUUUA(U/A)(U/A) motifs also suggest additional regulation through this extended 3'-UTR. Although elevation of STAR protein by ACTH does not cause the acute increase in adrenal cholesterol metabolism, changes in the turnover or distribution of an active STAR subfraction cannot be excluded.
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