Steroids must traverse the nuclear envelope before exerting their action at the chromatin. However, few studies have been done to elucidate the mechanism by which steroids traverse this membrane barrier. As first steps towards investigating the mechanism, we have characterized the binding sites for dexamethasone on male rat liver nuclear envelopes. The nuclear envelopes, prepared in the presence of dithiothreitol, were isolated from purified nuclei after treatment with DNase 1 at high pH. Binding of dexamethasone to the nuclear envelopes was measured after 16h of incubation at 0-4°C. At pH 7.4, only a single high capacity, low affinity binding site for dexamethasone was identified. However, at pH 8.6, two sites were identified; a low capacity, high affinity site and a high capacity, low affinity site. Adrenalectomy of the animal before preparation of the membranes caused loss of the high affinity site and reduction in the number of the lower affinity sites. Acute dexamethasone treatment of adrenalectomized rats resulted in the reappearance of the high affinity site but long term treatment with dexamethasone was required for complete restoration of the high affinity sites and reappearance of any of the low affinity sites. The steroid specificity of these nuclear envelope binding sites was different from that of the cytosolic glucocorticoid receptor, generally showing broader specificity. However, triamcinolone acetonide, which is a potent competitor for binding to the glucocorticoid receptor, did not compete effectively. The binding sites were sensitive to protease treatment and salt extraction studies revealed that the dexamethasone binding sites do not represent proteins non-specifically bound to the nuclear envelope. The affinity and the hormone responsiveness of the high affinity site are similar to those of the nuclear glucocorticoid receptor. Therefore, the nuclear envelope may be a site of action of glucocorticoids.
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