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J Endocrinol. 2003 Dec;179(3):301-10.

The molecular and cellular basis of corticosteroid resistance.

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  • 1Bone and Joint Research Unit, John Vane Building, St Bartholomew's and Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6BQ, UK.


Corticosteroids (CS) can modulate gene expression and are often used to treat a range of immunological and inflammatory diseases such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. However, a proportion of patients fail to show an adequate response. On this basis patients have been subdivided into CS-sensitive (SS) and -resistant (SR) subgroups. The ability of CS to inhibit peripheral blood T cell proliferation in vitro has also been used similarly. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the in vitro-defined SS and SR subgroups correlate with the clinical responses to CS therapy. The mechanisms responsible for this observation are unknown but they appear to involve a number of known molecular events related to the described mechanisms of action of CS. These include alterations in the functional status of CS receptor-alpha, perturbations of the cytokine and hormonal milieu and intracellular signalling pathways. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNCs) from SR significantly overexpress activated NF-kappaB. In vitro, CS fail to significantly inhibit concanavalin A (conA)-induced NF-kappaB activation in MNCs from SR RA patients. The alterations in the intracellular signalling pathways may explain in part our observations seen in SR RA subjects, CS fail to significantly inhibit conA-induced interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-4 secretion and lipopolysaccharide-induced IL-8 and IL-1beta secretion in vitro. CS therapy fails to reduce the circulating levels of IL-8 and IL-1beta in RA patients. In asthma, CS fail to induce L10 in SR asthma patients. Other molecular mechanisms such as enhanced AP-1 expression and alterations in the MAP kinase pathway are most likely to be involved too and we are currently investigating such possibilities. A full understanding of the molecular basis of SR will lead to the development of more rational therapeutic strategies.

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