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.
- Gene expression
- Glucocorticoid receptor
- HPA axis
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience