The effects of selected inhibitors on human fetal adrenal steroidogenesis differs under basal and ACTH-stimulated conditions

Cecilie Melau, Malene Lundgaard Riis, John E Nielsen, Signe Perlman, Lene Lundvall, Lea Langhoff Thuesen, Kristine Juul Hare, Mette Schou Hammerum, Rod T Mitchell, Hanne Frederiksen, Anders Juul, Anne Jørgensen

6 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Disordered fetal adrenal steroidogenesis can cause marked clinical effects including virilization of female fetuses. In postnatal life, adrenal disorders can be life-threatening due to the risk of adrenal crisis and must be carefully managed. However, testing explicit adrenal steroidogenic inhibitory effects of therapeutic drugs is challenging due to species-specific characteristics, and particularly the impact of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation on drugs targeting steroidogenesis has not previously been examined in human adrenal tissue. Therefore, this study aimed to examine the effects of selected steroidogenic inhibitors on human fetal adrenal (HFA) steroid hormone production under basal and ACTH-stimulated conditions.

METHODS: This study used an established HFA ex vivo culture model to examine treatment effects in 78 adrenals from 50 human fetuses (gestational weeks 8-12). Inhibitors were selected to affect enzymes critical for different steps in classic adrenal steroidogenic pathways, including CYP17A1 (Abiraterone acetate), CYP11B1/2 (Osilodrostat), and a suggested CYP21A2 inhibitor (Efavirenz). Treatment effects were examined under basal and ACTH-stimulated conditions in tissue from the same fetus and determined by quantifying the secretion of adrenal steroids in the culture media using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Statistical analysis was performed on ln-transformed data using one-way ANOVA for repeated measures followed by Tukey's multiple comparisons test.

RESULTS: Treatment with Abiraterone acetate and Osilodrostat resulted in potent inhibition of CYP17A1 and CYP11B1/2, respectively, while treatment with Efavirenz reduced testosterone secretion under basal conditions. ACTH-stimulation affected the inhibitory effects of all investigated drugs. Thus, treatment effects of Abiraterone acetate were more pronounced under stimulated conditions, while Efavirenz treatment caused a non-specific inhibition on steroidogenesis. ACTH-stimulation prevented the Osilodrostat-mediated CYP11B1 inhibition observed under basal conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the effects of steroidogenic inhibitors differ under basal and ACTH-stimulated conditions in the HFA ex vivo culture model. This could suggest that in vivo effects of therapeutic drugs targeting steroidogenesis may vary in conditions where patients have suppressed or high ACTH levels, respectively. This study further demonstrates that ex vivo cultured HFAs can be used to evaluate steroidogenic inhibitors and thereby provide novel information about the local effects of existing and emerging drugs that targets steroidogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number204
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2021


  • Abiraterone
  • ACTH
  • Adrenal
  • Efavirenz
  • Ex vivo
  • Human
  • Osilodrostat
  • Steroid hormones


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