Adequate expression of surfactant protein-B (SP-B) is critical in the function of pulmonary surfactant to reduce alveolar surface tension. Expression of SP-B mRNA is restricted to specific lung-airway epithelial cells, and human SP-B mRNA stability is increased in the presence of the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone (DEX). Although the mechanism of SP-B mRNA stabilization by DEX is unknown, studies suggest involvement of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). We developed a dual-cistronic plasmid-based expression assay in which steady-state levels of SP-B mRNA, determined by Northern analysis, reproducibly reflect changes in SP-B mRNA stability. Using this assay, we found that steady-state levels of SP-B mRNA increased greater than twofold in transfected human-airway epithelial cells (A549) incubated with DEX (10(-7) M). DEX-mediated changes in SP-B mRNA levels required the presence of the SP-B mRNA 3'-untranslated region but did not require ongoing protein synthesis. The effect of DEX on SP-B mRNA levels was dose dependent, with maximal effect at 10(-7) M. DEX increased levels of SP-B mRNA in cells lacking GR, and the presence of the GR antagonist RU486 did not interfere with the effect of DEX. Surprisingly, other steroid hormones (progesterone, estradiol, and vitamin D; 10(-7) M) significantly increased SP-B mRNA levels, suggesting a common pathway of steroid hormone action on SP-B mRNA stability. These results indicate that the effect of DEX to increase SP-B mRNA stability is independent of activated GR and suggests that the mechanism is mediated by posttranscriptional or nongenomic effects of glucocorticoids.
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