CRF is released in response to various stressors and regulates ACTH secretion and glucocorticoid production. CRF overproduction has been implicated in affective disorders, such as depression and anorexia nervosa, and may lead to Cushing’s syndrome. To test whether CRF overproduction leads to Cushing’s syndrome and to develop an animal model of chronic pituitary-adrenal activation, the CRF gene was expressed under control of the metallothionein promoter in transgenie mice. CRF transgenic animals exhibit endocrine abnormalities involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, such as elevated plasma levels of ACTH and glucocorticoids. These animals display physical changes similar to those of patients with Cushing’s syndrome, such as excess fat accumulation, muscle atrophy, thin skin, and alopecia. These findings indicate that chronic production of excess CRF results in sustained stimulation of pituitary corticotrope cells, resulting in elevated ACTH and consequent glucocorticoid overproduction, a condition that leads to the development of Cushing’s syndrome. Analysis of CRF mRNA distribution revealed that transgene expression is primarily restricted to cells that express the endogenous CRF gene and does not follow the pattern predicted of a metallothionein-regulated gene. These results suggest that DNA elements located outside of the CRF promoter but present within the CRF intron, coding, or 3’-flanking regions may contribute to the cell type specificity of CRF gene expression.
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