Pituitary Transcription Factors: From Congenital Deficiencies to Gene Therapy


  • Quentien M.H.
  • Barlier Anne
  • Franc Jean-Louis
  • Pellegrini I.
  • Brue Thierry
  • Enjalbert A.


Despite the existence of interspecies phenotypic variability, animal models have yielded valuable insights into human pituitary diseases. Studies on Snell and Jackson mice known to have growth hormone, prolactin and thyroid-stimulating hormone deficiencies involving the hypoplastic pituitary gland have led to identifying alterations of the pituitary specific POU homeodomain Pit-1 transcription factor gene. The human phenotype associated with rare mutations in this gene was found to be similar to that of these mice mutants. Terminal differentiation of lactotroph cells and direct regulation of the prolactin gene both require interactions between Pit-1 and cell type specific partners, including panpituitary transcriptional regulators such as Pitx1 and Pitx2. Synergistic activation of the prolactin promoter by Pitx factors and Pit-1 is involved not only in basal condition, but also in responsiveness to forskolin, thyrotrophin-releasing-hormone and epidermal growth factor. In corticotroph cells, Pitx1 interacts with Tpit. Tpit mutations have turned out to be the main molecular cause of neonatal isolated adrenocorticotrophin deficiency. This finding supports the idea that Tpit plays an essential role in the differentiation of the pro-opiomelanocortin pituitary lineage. The effects of Pit-1 are not restricted to hormone gene regulation because this factor also contributes to cell division and protects the cell from programmed cell death. Lentiviral vectors expressing a Pit-1 dominant negative mutant induced time- and dose-dependent cell death in somatotroph and lactotroph adenomas in vitro. Gene transfer by lentiviral vectors should provide a promising step towards developing an efficient specific therapeutic approach by which a gene therapy programme for treating human pituitary adenomas could be based.

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