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1. The genes encoding aldosterone synthase (CYP11B2) and 11β-hydroxylase (CYP11B1) are very similar at the nucleotide level (>95% homology). Despite this and the corresponding similarity of amino acid sequence, there are considerable differences in functional and substrate specificity of the two enzymes. In the present study we have examined the role of two amino acids that differ between the two enzymes (147 and 248) to determine the difference between aldosterone synthase and 11β-hydroxylase capacity to 11-hydroxylate 11-deoxycorticosterone (DOC).

2. Plasmids containing cDNA encoding wild-type aldosterone synthase, wild-type 11β-hydroxylase and mutated forms of aldosterone synthase (D147E and 1248T), in which the codons for residues 147 (aspartate exon 3) or 248 (isoleucine exon 4) had been altered the encode to corresponding amino acids (glutamate and threonine respectively) from 11β-hydroxylase were transiently expressed in non-steroidogenic COS-7 cells. All transfections were cotransfected with bovine adrenodoxin. Cells were then incubated with [3H]-DOC for 48 h and the production of corticosterone (B), 18-hydroxycorticosterone (18-OHB) and aldosterone measured by measuring tritriated products using thin layer chromatography.

3. Compared with wild-type aldosterone synthase, the mutated form (D147E) encoding amino acid 147 from 11β-hydroxylase was more efficient in 11β-hydroxylation of deoxycorticosterone (B:DOC ratio 0.53±0.05 (wild type) to 3.05±0.37 (mutant); P<0.001). However, 18-hydroxylation of B and conversion of this steroid into aldosterone were unaffected. There was a 20% increase in the production of aldosterone from DOC (P<0.05). However, in comparison with wild-type 11β-hydroxylase, the mutated aldosterone synthase (D147E) was still less efficient (B:DOC ratio 6.2±0.41). The mutated aldosterone synthase (I248T) encoding amino acid 248 from 11β-hydroxylase showed no changes in conversion of DOC to B or in the production of aldosterone.

4. These data demonstrate that position 147 has an important effect on the efficiency of 11β-hydroxylation of DOC and indicate that this is a key difference between the two enzymes in determining functional specificity. However, other residues must also contribute to efficiency of 11-hydroxylation of 11β-hydroxylase. In contrast, amino acid 248, which is one of the few differences between the two enzymes in exon 4, does not affect enzyme efficiency. As altered activity of aldosterone synthase and 11β-hydroxylase has been proposed as an important intermediate phenotype in essential hypertension, such studies will help our understanding of the structure-function relationships that will be necessary in order to understand how genetic changes may contribute to observed differences in phenotype.

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