The mechanisms underlying human parturition are still not understood, yet we need this knowledge to combat preterm birth. Fetal membranes express abundant 11 β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 (11β-HSD1), which converts inert cortisone to active cortisol. We examined whether cortisol regeneration in the amnion might play a role in human parturition through regulation of lysyl oxidase (LOX), a collagen cross-linking enzyme, thereby contributing to the rupture of fetal membranes. By using cultured human primary amnion fibroblasts, we demonstrated that, in addition to the induction of the key enzymes involved in prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) synthesis, cortisol stimulated 11β-HSD1 and inhibited LOX reciprocally. These results were reproduced in human amnion tissue explants after cortisol treatment. Cortisone also inhibited LOX expression, which was abolished by the inhibition of 11β-HSD1. Despite the inhibition of LOX by PGE2, inhibition of the PGE2 pathway failed to block the inhibition of LOX by cortisol. However, inhibition of glucocorticoid receptor and mutation of a negative glucocorticoid response element in LOX promoter abolished the inhibition of LOX by cortisol. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assay revealed that cortisol increased GR binding to the LOX promoter. Moreover, increased cortisol and 11β-HSD1 abundance and decreased LOX abundance were observed in human amnion tissue after the labor-initiated spontaneous rupture of membranes. These data highlight a crucial role for local cortisol regeneration by 11β-HSD1 in the down-regulation of LOX expression via glucocorticoid receptor binding to a negative glucocorticoid response element to its promoter in the amnion, which may contribute to rupture of fetal membranes at parturition.
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