CRH is the principal mediator of the stress response in mammals. In addition to pituitary and central nervous system effects, peripheral effects of CRH have been observed involving the immune and cardiovascular systems. Two CRH receptor subtypes, CRH-R1 and CRH-R2, have been cloned and show significant amino acid homology (69%), but differ in their tissue distribution. CRH-R1 is expressed predominantly in the brain and pituitary, whereas the CRH-R2 subtype is highly expressed in heart and skeletal muscle. To investigate the role of CRH in cardiac signaling, we analyzed the effect of CRH on freshly isolated neonatal rat cardiomyocytes and murine atrial cardiomyocyte tumor cells, AT-1, which express CRH-R2 messenger RNA. We show that stimulation of these cells with CRH and the CRH-related peptides, sauvagine from frog and urotensin I from fish, elicits large increases in the intracellular level of cAMP. This stimulation is transient, reaching a maximum in 5-15 min in neonatal cardiomyocytes and in 2-4 min in AT-1 cells, followed by a rapid decline. We show that stimulation of AT-1 cells by these peptides is specific for CRH receptors, as the CRH antagonist, α-helical CRH-(9-41) inhibits cAMP increases. Furthermore, we show that CRH, sauvagine, and urotensin I stimulations are dose dependent in both neonatal cardiomyocytes and AT-1 cells. Sauvagine and urotensin I are more potent than CRH at stimulating an increase in intracellular cAMP in neonatal cardiomyocytes (EC50 = 1.74, 2.61, 6.42 nM, respectively) and AT-1 cells (EC50 = 16.2, 15.8, and 149 nM, respectively). This rank order is consistent with that previously demonstrated in CRH-R2-transfected HEK 293 cells and parallels the in vivo vasodilatory activity of these peptides. In summary, this is the first evidence that CRH, sauvagine, and urotensin I act directly on cardiac myocytes to stimulate increases in intracellular cAMP, presumably through CRH-R2. In addition, these results indicate that cardiac myocytes may be an informative in vitro model to investigate the effects of CRH and its role in the cardiovascular response to stress.
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