Localization of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein in human tissues

Staci E. Pollack, Emma E. Furth, Caleb B. Kallen, Futoshi Arakane, Marianthi Kiriakidou, Karen F. Kozarsky, Jerome F. Strauss

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133 Scopus citations


The rate-limiting step in steroid hormone production in the adrenal cortex and gonads, the translocation of cholesterol from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membranes, is mediated by the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). Heretofore, the localization of StAR in human adult and fetal tissues has not been defined. To this end, expression of StAR was detected in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded specimens using a polyclonal antiserum raised against recombinant human STAR. Primordial follicles of adult ovaries did not contain STAR, whereas antral follicles stained intensely in the thecal layer, with occasional staining of granulosa cells. Corpora lutea were intensely stained, but with a patchy distribution. Corpora albicantia did not stain. A luteoma of pregnancy stained with patches of moderate intensity. Ovaries with hyperthecosis contained areas of intense thecal staining. An ovarian Leydig cell tumor stained intensely, whereas granulosa cell tumors were negative. Ovarian adenocarcinomas, borderline tumors, teratomas, cystadenomas, and a Brenner tumor displayed no specific StAR immunostaining. Testicular Leydig cells stained moderately to intensely, as did a testicular Leydig cell tumor. Sertoli cells stained weakly in some specimens. Seminomas and testicular germ cell tumors were negative. There was minimal to moderate staining in the adrenal glomerulosa and faciculata and minimal staining in the reticularis, while the medulla was negative. Adrenal cortical adenomas, hyperplasias, and carcinomas all contained areas of StAR staining. The renal distal tubules stained with moderate to marked intensity. Renal carcinomas had occasional modest staining. No immunostaining was found in the placenta. Fetal ovaries contained sporadic stromal cells displaying intense StAR staining, particularly in the hilar region. Oocytes from a 32- week fetal ovary showed moderate to intense staining. Fetal testes displayed intense Leydig cell staining. The neocortex of the fetal adrenal glands displayed only minimal StAR staining, whereas moderate to intense staining was found in the fetal zone. The fetal kidneys had moderate StAR staining of the distal convoluted tubules. We conclude that StAR is localized to normal and neoplastic cells in the gonads and adrenal cortex, which produce large amounts of pregnenolone. StAR protein was not detected in the placenta, documenting that placental progestin synthesis occurs through StAR- independent mechanisms. The presence of StAR in cells that do not express cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme cytochrome P450, including renal distal tubules, Sertoli cells, and fetal oocytes, suggests that StAR has roles in metabolic processes in addition to stimulating pregnenolone synthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4243-4251
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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