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Bioessays. 2008 Aug;30(8):744-56. doi: 10.1002/bies.20792.

What goes on behind closed doors: physiological versus pharmacological steroid hormone actions.

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  • 1Steroid Hormones Section, Bldg 10, Room 8N-307B, NIDDK/CEB, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892-1772, USA.


Steroid-hormone-activated receptor proteins are among the best-understood class of factors for altering gene transcription in cells. Steroid receptors are of major importance in maintaining normal human physiology by responding to circulating concentrations of steroid in the nM range. Nonetheless, most studies of steroid receptor action have been conducted using the supra-physiological conditions of saturating concentrations (> or =100 nM) of potent synthetic steroid agonists. Here we summarize the recent developments arising from experiments using two clinically relevant conditions: subsaturating concentrations of agonist (to mimic the circulating concentrations in mammals) and saturating concentrations of antagonists (which are employed in endocrine therapies to block the actions of endogenous steroids). These studies have revealed new facets of steroid hormone action that could not be uncovered by conventional experiments with saturating concentrations of agonist steroids, such as a plethora of factors/conditions for the differential control of gene expression by physiological levels of steroid, a rational approach for examining the gene-specific variations in partial agonist activity of antisteroids, and a dissociation of steroid potency and efficacy that implies the existence of separate, and possibly novel, mechanistic steps and cofactors.

(c) 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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