Medical therapy for Cushing's disease (CD) is currently based on agents mainly targeting adrenocortical function. Lately, pituitary-directed drugs have been developed, with limited efficacy. Mitotane, a potent adrenolytic drug, has been recently investigated for the treatment of CD, but the direct pituitary effects have not been clarified so far. The aim of our study was to investigate whether mitotane may affect corticotroph function and cell survival in the mouse pituitary cell line AtT20/D16v-F2 and in the primary cultures of human ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas, as an in vitro model of pituitary corticotrophs. We found that in the AtT20/D16v-F2 cell line and in primary cultures, mitotane reduces cell viability by inducing caspase-mediated apoptosis and reduces ACTH secretion. In the AtT20/D16v-F2 cell line, mitotane reduces Pomc expression and blocks the stimulatory effects of corticotropin-releasing hormone on cell viability, ACTH secretion, and Pomc expression. These effects were apparent at mitotane doses greater than those usually necessary for reducing cortisol secretion in Cushing's syndrome, but still in the therapeutic window for adrenocortical carcinoma treatment. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that mitotane affects cell viability and function of human and mouse ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma cells. These data indicate that mitotane could have direct pituitary effects on corticotroph cells
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