The effect of glucocorticoids on collagen synthesis was examined in cultured bovine aortic smooth muscle (BASM) cells. BASM cells treated with 0.1 microM dexamethasone during their proliferative phase (11 d) were labeled with [3H]proline for 24 h, and the acid-precipitable material was incubated with bacterial collagenase. Dexamethasone produced an approximate twofold increase in the incorporation of proline into collagenase-digestible protein (CDP) and noncollagen protein (NCP) in the cell layer and medium. The stimulation was present in both primary mass cultures and cloned BASM. An increase in CDP and NCP was detected at 0.1 nM, while maximal stimulation occurred at 0.1 microM. Only cells exposed to dexamethasone during their log phase of growth (1-6 d after plating) showed the increase in CDP and NCP when labeled 11 d after plating. The stimulatory effect was observed in BASM cells treated with the natural bovine glucocorticoid, cortisol, dexamethasone, and testosterone, but was absent in cells treated with aldosterone, corticosterone, cholesterol, 17 beta-estradiol, and progesterone. The increase in CDP and NCP was absent in cells treated with the inactive glucocorticoid, epicortisol, and totally abolished by the antagonist, 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone, suggesting that the response was mediated by specific cytoplasmic glucocorticoid receptors. Dexamethasone-treated BASM cells showed a 4.5-fold increase in the specific activity of intracellular proline, which was the result of a twofold increase in the uptake of proline and depletion of the total proline pool. After normalizing for specific activity, dexamethasone produced a 2.4- and 2.8-fold increase in the rate of collagen and NCP synthesis, respectively. Cells treated with dexamethasone secreted 1.7-fold more collagen protein in 24 h compared to control cultures. The BASM cells secreted 70% Type I and 30% Type III collagen into the media as assessed by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. The ratio of these two types was not altered by dexamethasone. The results of the present study demonstrate that glucocorticoids can act directly on vascular smooth muscle cells to increase the synthesis and secretion of collagen and NCP.

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