The first step in the biosynthesis of steroid hormones is conversion of cholesterol into pregnenolone. StAR (steroidogenic acute regulatory) protein plays a crucial role in the intra-mitochondrial movement of cholesterol. STS (steroid sulphatase), which is present ubiquitously in mammalian tissues, including the placenta, adrenal gland, testis and ovary, desulphates a number of 3β-hydroxysteroid sulphates, including cholesterol sulphate. The present study was designed to examine the effect of STS on StAR protein synthesis and steroidogenesis in cells. Steroidogenic activities of COS-1 cells that had been co-transfected with a vector for the cholesterol P450scc (cytochrome P450 side-chain-cleavage enzyme) system, named F2, a StAR expression vector (pStAR), and an STS expression vector (pSTS) were assayed. Whole-cell extracts were subjected to SDS/PAGE and then to Western blot analysis. pSTS co-expressed in COS-1 cells with F2 and pStAR increased pregnenolone synthesis 2-fold compared with that of co-expression with F2 and pStAR. Western blot analysis using COS-1 cells that had been co-transfected with pSTS, F2 and pStAR revealed that StAR protein levels increased, whereas STS and P450scc protein levels did not change. The amount of StAR protein translation products increased when pSTS was added to an in vitro transcription–translation reaction mixture. Pulse–chase experiments demonstrated that the 37 kDa StAR pre-protein disappeared significantly (P<0.01) more slowly in COS-1 cells that had been transfected with pSTS than in COS-1 cells that had not been transfected with pSTS. The increase in StAR protein level is not a result of an increase in StAR gene expression, but is a result of both an increase in translation and a longer half-life of the 37 kDa pre-StAR protein. In conclusion, STS increases StAR protein expression level and stimulates steroid production.

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