Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the predominant androgen secreted by the adrenal cortex, can be converted to both potent androgens and estrogens. In addition to its role as a precursor for other steroid hormones, DHEA has been proposed to play an important role in immunity. This study has investigated DHEA modulation of LPS-induced monocyte cytotoxicity. Cytotoxicity markers assessed include tumor cell killing, IL-1 secretion, reactive oxygen intermediate release, nitric oxide synthetase activity as measured by the release of reactive nitrogen intermediates, complement receptor-1 cell surface protein, and TNF-alpha protein presence. Monocytes stimulated with LPS concentrations of 1.0 micrograms/ml displayed the above cytotoxic markers, whereas monocytes stimulated with DHEA alone or with LPS at a lower concentration of 0.2 ng/ml did not. However, when used simultaneously, DHEA and LPS 0.2 ng/ml displayed a synergistic effect on monocyte cytotoxicity against cancerous cell lines, IL-1 secretion, reactive nitrogen intermediate release, complement receptor-1 cell-surface protein, and TNF-alpha protein to levels comparable with levels obtained using LPS 1.0 microgram/ml. Finally, Scatchard plot analysis demonstrated the presence of a DHEA receptor in monocytes, suggesting that DHEA effects on LPS-stimulated monocytes are mediated through a receptor-dependent process.

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