Translocator protein (TSPO) is an 18 kDa high affinity cholesterol- and drug-binding protein found primarily in the outer mitochondrial membrane. Although TSPO is found in many tissue types, it is expressed at the highest levels under normal conditions in tissues that synthesize steroids. TSPO has been associated with cholesterol import into mitochondria, a key function in steroidogenesis, and directly or indirectly with multiple other cellular functions including apoptosis, cell proliferation, differentiation, anion transport, porphyrin transport, heme synthesis, and regulation of mitochondrial function. Aberrant expression of TSPO has been linked to multiple diseases, including cancer, brain injury, neurodegeneration, and ischemia-reperfusion injury. There has been an effort during the last decade to understand the mechanisms regulating tissue- and disease-specific TSPO expression and to identify pharmacological means to control its expression. This review focuses on the current knowledge regarding the chemicals, hormones, and molecular mechanisms regulating Tspo gene expression under physiological conditions in a tissue- and disease-specific manner. The results described here provide evidence that the PKCepsilon-ERK1/2-AP-1/STAT3 signal transduction pathway is the primary regulator of Tspo gene expression in normal and pathological tissues expressing high levels of TSPO.
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