Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein

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steroidogenic acute regulatory protein
NCBI gene6770
Other data
LocusChr. 8 p11.2

The steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, commonly referred to as StAR (STARD1), is a transport protein that regulates cholesterol transfer within the mitochondria, which is the rate-limiting step in the production of steroid hormones. It is primarily present in steroid-producing cells, including theca cells and luteal cells in the ovary, Leydig cells in the testis and cell types in the adrenal cortex.


Cholesterol needs to be transferred from the outer mitochondrial membrane to the inner membrane where cytochrome P450scc enzyme (CYP11A1) cleaves the cholesterol side chain, which is the first enzymatic step in all steroid synthesis. The aqueous phase between these two membranes cannot be crossed by the lipophilic cholesterol, unless certain proteins assist in this process. A number of proteins have historically been proposed to facilitate this transfer including: sterol carrier protein 2 (SCP2), steroidogenic activator polypeptide (SAP), peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR or translocator protein, TSPO), and StAR. It is now clear that this process is primarily mediated by the action of StAR.

The mechanism by which StAR causes cholesterol movement remains unclear as it appears to act from the outside of the mitochondria and its entry into the mitochondria ends its function. Various hypotheses have been advanced. Some involve StAR transferring cholesterol itself like a shuttle.[1][2] While StAR may bind cholesterol itself,[3] the exorbitant number of cholesterol molecules that the protein transfers would indicate that it would have to act as a cholesterol channel instead of a shuttle. Another notion is that it causes cholesterol to be kicked out of the outer membrane to the inner (cholesterol desorption).[4] StAR may also promote the formation of contact sites between the outer and inner mitochondrial membranes to allow cholesterol influx. Another suggests that StAR acts in conjunction with PBR, causing the movement of Cl out of the mitochondria to facilitate contact site formation. However, evidence for an interaction between StAR and PBR remains elusive.


In humans, the gene for StAR is located on chromosome 8p11.2 and the protein has 285 amino acids. The signal sequence of StAR that targets it to the mitochondria is clipped off in two steps with import into the mitochondria. Phosphorylation at the serine at position 195 increases its activity.[5]

The domain of StAR important for promoting cholesterol transfer is the StAR-related transfer domain (START domain). StAR is the prototypic member of the START domain family of proteins and is thus also known as STARD1 for "START domain-containing protein 1".[6] It is hypothesized that the START domain forms a pocket in StAR that binds single cholesterol molecules for delivery to P450scc.

The closest homolog to StAR is MLN64 (STARD3).[7] Together they comprise the StarD1/D3 subfamily of START domain-containing proteins.


StAR is a mitochondrial protein that is rapidly synthesized in response to stimulation of the cell to produce steroid. Hormones that stimulate its production depend on the cell type and include luteinizing hormone (LH), ACTH and angiotensin II.

At the cellular level, StAR is synthesized typically in response to activation of the cAMP second messenger system, although other systems can be involved even independently of cAMP.[8]

StAR has thus far been found in all tissues that can produce steroids, including the adrenal cortex, the gonads, the brain and the nonhuman placenta.[9] One known exception is the human placenta.

Substances that suppress StAR activity, like those listed below, can cause endocrine disrupting effects, including altered steroid hormone levels and fertility.

  1. Alcohol[10]
  2. DEHP[11] and DBP[12]
  3. Permethrin[13] and cypermethrin[14]
  4. DES and arsenite[15]
  5. BPA


Mutations in the gene for StAR cause lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (lipoid CAH), in which patients produce little steroid and can die shortly after birth.[9] Mutations that less severely affect the function of StAR result in nonclassic lipoid CAH or familial glucocorticoid deficiency type 3.[16][17] All known mutations disrupt StAR function by altering its START domain. In the case of StAR mutation, the phenotype does not present until birth since human placental steroidogenesis is independent of StAR.

At the cellular level, the lack of StAR results in a pathologic accumulation of lipid within cells, especially noticeable in the adrenal cortex as seen in the mouse model. The testes are undescended and the resident steroidogenic Leydig cells are modestly affected. Early in life, the ovary is spared as it does not express StAR until puberty. After puberty, lipid accumulations and hallmarks of ovarian failure are noted.[citation needed]

StAR-independent steroidogenesis[edit]

While loss of functional StAR in the human and the mouse catastrophically reduces steroid production, it does not eliminate all of it, indicating the existence of StAR-independent pathways for steroid generation. Aside from the human placenta, these pathways are considered minor for endocrine production.

It is unclear what factors catalyze StAR-independent steroidogenesis. Candidates include oxysterols which can be freely converted to steroid[18] and the ubiquitous MLN64.

New roles[edit]

Recent findings suggest that StAR may also traffic cholesterol to a second mitochondrial enzyme, sterol 27-hydroxylase. This enzyme converts cholesterol to 27-hydroxycholesterol. In this way it may be important for the first step in one of the two pathways for the production of bile acids by the liver (the alternative pathway).[19]

Evidence also shows that the presence of StAR in a type of immune cell, the macrophage, where it can stimulate the production of 27-hydroxycholesterol.[20][21] In this case, 27-hydroxycholesterol may by itself be helpful against the production of inflammatory factors associated with cardiovascular disease. It is important to note that no study has yet found a link between the loss of StAR and problems in bile acid production or increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Recently StAR was found to be expressed in cardiac fibroblasts in response to ischemic injury due to myocardial infarction. In these cells it has no apparent de novo steroidogenic activity, as evidenced by the lack of the key steroidogenic enzymes cytochrome P450 side chain cleavage (CYP11A1) and 3 beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD). StAR was found to have an anti-apoptotic effect on the fibroblasts, which may allow them to survive the initial stress of the infarct, differentiate and function in tissue repair at the infarction site.[22]


The StAR protein was first identified, characterized and named by Douglas Stocco at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in 1994.[23] The role of this protein in lipoid CAH was confirmed the following year in collaboration with Walter Miller at the University of California, San Francisco.[24] All of this work follows the initial observations of the appearance of this protein and its phosphorylated form coincident with factors that caused steroid production by Nanette Orme-Johnson while at Tufts University.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kallen CB, Billheimer JT, Summers SA, Stayrook SE, Lewis M, Strauss III JF (October 1998). "Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) is a sterol transfer protein". J. Biol. Chem. 273 (41): 26285–8. doi:10.1074/jbc.273.41.26285. PMID 9756854.
  2. ^ Bose HS, Whittal RM, Baldwin MA, Miller WL (June 1999). "The active form of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, StAR, appears to be a molten globule". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (13): 7250–5. Bibcode:1999PNAS...96.7250B. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.13.7250. PMC 22068. PMID 10377400.
  3. ^ Roostaee A, Barbar E, Lehoux JG, Lavigne P (June 2008). "Cholesterol binding is a prerequisite for the activity of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR)". Biochem. J. 412 (3): 553–62. doi:10.1042/BJ20071264. PMID 18341481.
  4. ^ Christenson LK, Strauss III JF (2001). "Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein: an update on its regulation and mechanism of action". Arch. Med. Res. 32 (6): 576–86. doi:10.1016/S0188-4409(01)00338-1. PMID 11750733.
  5. ^ Arakane F, King SR, Du Y, Kallen CB, Walsh LP, Watari H, Stocco DM, Strauss JF (December 1997). "Phosphorylation of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) modulates its steroidogenic activity". J. Biol. Chem. 272 (51): 32656–62. doi:10.1074/jbc.272.51.32656. PMID 9405483.
  6. ^ Ponting CP, Aravind L (April 1999). "START: a lipid-binding domain in StAR, HD-ZIP and signalling proteins". Trends Biochem. Sci. 24 (4): 130–2. doi:10.1016/S0968-0004(99)01362-6. PMID 10322415.
  7. ^ Alpy F, Tomasetto C (June 2006). "MLN64 and MENTHO, two mediators of endosomal cholesterol transport". Biochem. Soc. Trans. 34 (Pt 3): 343–5. doi:10.1042/BST0340343. PMID 16709157.
  8. ^ Stocco DM, Wang X, Jo Y, Manna PR (November 2005). "Multiple Signaling Pathways Regulating Steroidogenesis and Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory Protein Expression: More Complicated than We Thought". Molecular Endocrinology. 19 (11): 2647–59. doi:10.1210/me.2004-0532. PMID 15831519.
  9. ^ a b Bhangoo A, Anhalt H, Ten S, King SR (March 2006). "Phenotypic variations in lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia". Pediatr Endocrinol Rev. 3 (3): 258–71. PMID 16639391.
  10. ^ Srivastava VK, Vijayan E, Hiney JK, Dees WL (October 2005). "Effect of ethanol on follicle stimulating hormone-induced steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) in cultured rat granulosa cells". Alcohol. 37 (2): 105–11. doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2006.01.001. PMID 16584974.
  11. ^ Kariyazono Y, Taura J, Hattori Y, Ishii Y, Narimatsu S, Fujimura M, Takeda T, Yamada H (December 2015). "Effect of in utero exposure to endocrine disruptors on fetal steroidogenesis governed by the pituitary-gonad axis: a study in rats using different ways of administration". The Journal of Toxicological Sciences. 40 (6): 909–16. doi:10.2131/jts.40.909. PMID 26558472.
  12. ^ Motohashi M, Wempe MF, Mutou T, Okayama Y, Kansaku N, Takahashi H, Ikegami M, Asari M, Wakui S (2016). "In utero-exposed di(n-butyl) phthalate induce dose dependent, age-related changes of morphology and testosterone-biosynthesis enzymes/associated proteins of Leydig cell mitochondria in rats". The Journal of Toxicological Sciences. 41 (2): 195–206. doi:10.2131/jts.41.195. PMID 26961603.
  13. ^ Jin, Yuanxiang; Liu, Jingwen; Wang, Linggang; Chen, Rujia; Zhou, Cheng; Yang, Yuefeng; Liu, Weiping; Fu, Zhengwei (2012). "Permethrin exposure during puberty has the potential to enantioselectively induce reproductive toxicity in mice". Environment International. 42: 144–151. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2011.05.020. ISSN 0160-4120. PMID 21745691.
  14. ^ Wang, Hua; Wang, Qun; Zhao, Xian-Feng; Liu, Ping; Meng, Xiu-Hong; Yu, Tao; Ji, Yan-Li; Zhang, Heng; Zhang, Cheng; Zhang, Ying; Xu, De-Xiang (2009). "Cypermethrin exposure during puberty disrupts testosterone synthesis via downregulating StAR in mouse testes". Archives of Toxicology. 84 (1): 53–61. doi:10.1007/s00204-009-0479-y. ISSN 0340-5761. PMID 19862501. S2CID 22210562.
  15. ^ Clark BJ, Cochrum RK (2007). "The Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory Protein as a Target of Endocrine Disruption in Male Reproduction". Drug Metabolism Reviews. 39 (2–3): 353–370. doi:10.1080/03602530701519151. PMID 17786626. S2CID 26531354.
  16. ^ Baker BY, Lin L, Kim CJ, Raza J, Smith CP, Miller WL, Achermann JC (December 2006). "Nonclassic congenital lipoid adrenal hyperplasia: a new disorder of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein with very late presentation and normal male genitalia". J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 91 (12): 4781–5. doi:10.1210/jc.2006-1565. PMC 1865081. PMID 16968793.
  17. ^ Metherell LA, Naville D, Halaby G, Begeot M, Huebner A, Nürnberg G, Nürnberg P, Green J, Tomlinson JW, Krone NP, Lin L, Racine M, Berney DM, Achermann JC, Arlt W, Clark AJ (October 2009). "Nonclassic lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia masquerading as familial glucocorticoid deficiency". J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 94 (10): 3865–3871. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-0467. PMC 2860769. PMID 19773404.
  18. ^ Hutson JC (January 2006). "Physiologic interactions between macrophages and Leydig cells". Exp. Biol. Med. (Maywood). 231 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1177/153537020623100101. PMID 16380639. S2CID 43006988.
  19. ^ Hall EA, Ren S, Hylemon PB, Rodriguez-Agudo D, Redford K, Marques D, Kang D, Gil G, Pandak WM (April 2005). "Detection of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, StAR, in human liver cells". Biochim Biophys Acta. 1733 (2–3): 111–119. doi:10.1016/j.bbalip.2005.01.004. PMID 15863358.
  20. ^ Ma Y, Ren S, Pandak WM, Li X, Ning Y, Lu C, Zhao F, Yin L (December 2007). "The effects of inflammatory cytokines on steroidogenic acute regulatory protein expression in macrophages". Inflamm Res. 56 (12): 495–501. doi:10.1007/s00011-007-6133-3. PMID 18210233. S2CID 21308251.
  21. ^ Taylor JM, Borthwick F, Bartholomew C, Graham A (June 2010). "Overexpression of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein increases macrophage cholesterol efflux to apolipoprotein AI". Cardiovasc Res. 86 (3): 526–534. doi:10.1093/cvr/cvq015. PMID 20083572.
  22. ^ Anuka E, Yivgi-Ohana N, Eimerl S, Garfinkel B, Melamed-Book N, Chepurkol E, Aravot D, Zinman T, Shainberg A, Hochhauser E, Orly J (September 2013). "Infarct-Induced Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory Protein: A Survival Role in Cardiac Fibroblasts". Mol Endocrinol. 27 (9): 1502–1517. doi:10.1210/me.2013-1006. PMC 5415234. PMID 23831818.
  23. ^ Clark BJ, Wells J, King SR, Stocco DM (November 1994). "The purification, cloning, and expression of a novel luteinizing hormone-induced mitochondrial protein in MA-10 mouse Leydig tumor cells. Characterization of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR)". J Biol Chem. 269 (45): 28314–28322. doi:10.1016/S0021-9258(18)46930-X. PMID 7961770.
  24. ^ Lin D, Sugawara T, Strauss III JF, Clark BJ, Stocco DM, Saenger P, Rogol A, Miller WL (March 1995). "Role of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein in adrenal and gonadal steroidogenesis". Science. 267 (5205): 1828–1831. Bibcode:1995Sci...267.1828L. doi:10.1126/science.7892608. PMID 7892608.
  25. ^ Krueger RJ, Orme-Johnson NR (August 1983). "Acute adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation of adrenal corticosteroidogenesis". J Biol Chem. 258 (16): 10159–10167. doi:10.1016/S0021-9258(17)44619-9. PMID 6309771.

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