CYP11B1 catalyzes the final step of cortisol biosynthesis. The effects of flavonoids on transcriptional expression and enzyme activity of CYP11B1 were investigated using the human adrenocortical H295R cell model. All tested nonhydroxylated flavones including 3',4'-dimethoxyflavone, α-naphthoflavone, and β-naphthoflavone upregulated CYP11B1 expression and cortisol production, whereas apigenin and quercetin exhibited potent cytotoxicity and CYP11B1 repression at high concentrations. Nonhydroxylated flavones stimulated CYP11B1-catalyzed cortisol formation at transcriptional level. Resveratrol increased endogenous and substrate-supported cortisol production like nonhydroxylated flavones tested, but it had no effect on CYP11B1 gene expression and enzyme activity. Resveratrol appeared to alter cortisol biosynthesis at an earlier step. The Ad5 element situated in the -121/-106 region was required for basal and flavone-induced CYP11B1 expression. Overexpression of COUP-TFI did not improve the responsiveness of Ad5 to nonhydroxylated flavones. Although COUP-TFI overexpression increased CYP11B1 and CYP11B2 promoter activation, its effect was not mediated through the common Ad5 element. Treating cells with PD98059 (a flavone-type MEK1 inhibitor) increased CYP11B1 promoter activity, but not involving ERK signaling because phosphorylation of ERK1/2 remained unvarying throughout the course of treatment. Likewise, AhR was not responsible for the CYP11B1-modulating effects of flavonoids because inconsistency with their effects on AhR activation. 3',4'-dimethoxyflavone and 8-Br-cAMP additively activated CYP11B1 promoter activity. H-89 reduced 3',4'-dimethoxyflavone-induced CYP11B1 promoter activation but to a lesser extent as compared to its inhibition on cAMP-induced transactivation. Our data suggest that constant exposure to nonhydroxylated flavones raises a potential risk of high basal and cAMP-induced cortisol synthesis in consequence of increased CYP11B1 expression.
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