11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD-1) intracellularly regenerates active corticosterone from circulating inert 11-dehydrocorticosterone (11-DHC) in specific tissues. The hippocampus is a brain structure particularly vulnerable to glucocorticoid neurotoxicity with aging. In intact hippocampal cells in culture, 11β-HSD-1 acts as a functional 11β-reductase reactivating inert 11-DHC to corticosterone, thereby potentiating kainate neurotoxicity. We examined the functional significance of 11β-HSD-1 in the central nervous system by using knockout mice. Aged wild-type mice developed elevated plasma corticosterone levels that correlated with learning deficits in the watermaze. In contrast, despite elevated plasma corticosterone levels throughout life, this glucocorticoid-associated learning deficit was ameliorated in aged 11β-HSD-1 knockout mice, implicating lower intraneuronal corticosterone levels through lack of 11-DHC reactivation. Indeed, aged knockout mice showed significantly lower hippocampal tissue corticosterone levels than wild-type controls. These findings demonstrate that tissue corticosterone levels do not merely reflect plasma levels and appear to play a more important role in hippocampal functions than circulating blood levels. The data emphasize the crucial importance of local enzymes in determining intracellular glucocorticoid activity. Selective 11β-HSD-1 inhibitors may protect against hippocampal function decline with age.
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|Publication status||Published - 10 Apr 2001|