Localization and quantification of pro-opiomelanocortin mRNA and glucocorticoid receptor mRNA in pituitaries of suicide victims

Juan F. Lopez, Miklos Palkovits, Mihaly Arato, Alfred Mansour, Huda Akil, Stanley J. Watson

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Suicidal behavior has been associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal overactivity in humans, as measured by increased corticosteroid secretion. To investigate whether this overactivity is reflected at the pituitary level, we have studied the localization of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA, and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mRNA, in human anterior pituitaries, and quantified these messages relative to controls. Pituitaries from 7 suicide victims and 11 cardiac deaths were sectioned into 10-um slides, stained with thionin and processed for in situ hybridization using a riboprobe complementary to human POMC mRNA. To correct for possible postmortem cell loss, hybridization with PI B15, a cDNA complementary to rat cyclophillin mRNA, was used in adjacent sections. POMC mRNA containing cells were found to be localized in clusters and were highly associated with corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) receptors. In contrast, GR mRNA containing cells were distributed through the pituitary, although areas of increased density were associated with POMC mRNA cells. Quantification with a computerized image analysis system revealed a 25% increase in POMC message in suicide victims. Analysis of the corticotrophic cell clumps showed that the suicide victims had higher POMC mRNA density per cell (p = 0.04) and larger corticotrophic cell size (p = 0.04) than the cardiac death victims. No differences in GR mRNA were detected between the two groups, although GR and POMC mRNA levels were highly and significantly correlated (r = 0.8, p < 0.001). There were no differences in P1B15 message between the two groups. We conclude that in situ hybridization is a useful tool to study gene regulation in human neuroendocrine tissue and that suicide victims show evidence of chronic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-501
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1992


  • Gene expression
  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • HPA axis
  • Proopiomelanocortin
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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