Objective. Glucocorticoids are important stress-responsive regulators of insulin-dependent metabolic processes realized through specific changes in genome function. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of cortisol on insulin receptor and related genes expression in HEK293 cells upon induction the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress by tunicamycin and hypoxia.

Methods. The human embryonic kidney cell line HEK293 was used. Cells were exposed to cortisol (10 µM) as well as inducers of hypoxia (dimethyloxalylglycine, DMOG; 0.5 mM) and ER stress (tunicamycin; 0.2 µg/ml) for 4 h. The RNA from these cells was extracted and reverse transcribed. The expression level of INSR, IRS2, and INSIG2 and some ER stress responsive genes encoding XBP1n, non-spliced variant, XBP1s, alternatively spliced variant of XBP1, and DNAJB9 proteins, was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and normalized to ACTB.

Results. We showed that exposure of HEK293 cells to cortisol elicited up-regulation in the expression of INSR and DNAJB9 genes and down-regulation of XBP1s, XBP1n, IRS2, and INSIG2 mRNA levels. At the same time, induction of hypoxia by DMOG led to an up-regulation of the expression level of most studied mRNAs: XBP1s and XBP1n, IRS2 and INSIG2, but did not change significantly INSR and DNAJB9 gene expression. We also showed that combined impact of cortisol and hypoxia introduced the up-regulation of INSR and suppressed XBP1n mRNA expression levels. Furthermore, the exposure of HEK293 cells to tunicamycin affected the expression of IRS2 gene and increased the level of XBP1n mRNA. At the same time, the combined treatment of these cells with cortisol and inductor of ER stress had much stronger impact on the expression of all the tested genes: strongly increased the mRNA level of ER stress dependent factors XBP1s and DNAJB9 as well as INSR and INSIG2, but down-regulated IRS2 and XBP1n.

Conclusion. Taken together, the present study indicates that cortisol may interact with ER stress and hypoxia in the regulation of ER stress dependent XBP1 and DNAJB9 mRNA expression as well as INSR and its signaling and that this corticosteroid hormone modified the impact of hypoxia and especially tunicamycin on the expression of most studied genes in HEK293 cells. These data demonstrate molecular mechanisms of glucocorticoids interaction with ER stress and insulin signaling at the cellular level.