An essential component of regulated steroidogenesis is the translocation of cholesterol from the cytoplasm to the inner mitochondrial membrane where the cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme carries out the first committed step in steroidogenesis. Recent studies showed that a 30-kDa mitochondrial phosphoprotein, designated steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), is essential for this translocation. To allow us to explore the roles of StAR in a system amenable to experimental manipulation and to develop an animal model for the human disorder lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (lipoid CAH), we used targeted gene disruption to produce StAR knockout mice. These StAR knockout mice were indistinguishable initially from wild-type littermates, except that males and females had female external genitalia. After birth, they failed to grow normally and died from adrenocortical insufficiency. Hormone assays confirmed severe defects in adrenal steroids-with loss of negative feedback regulation at hypothalamic-pituitary levels-whereas hormones constituting the gonadal axis did not differ significantly from levels in wild-type littermates. Histologically, the adrenal cortex of StAR knockout mice contained florid lipid deposits, with lesser deposits in the steroidogenic compartment of the testis and none in the ovary. The sex-specific differences in gonadal involvement support a two-stage model of the pathogenesis of StAR deficiency, with trophic hormone stimulation inducing progressive accumulation of lipids within the steroidogenic cells and ultimately causing their death. These StAR knockout mice provide a useful model system in which to determine the mechanisms of StAR's essential roles in adrenocortical and gonadal steroidogenesis.
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