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Biochem Soc Trans. 2009 Aug;37(Pt 4):824-9. doi: 10.1042/BST0370824.

Overcoming steroid unresponsiveness in airways disease.

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Airways Disease Section, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London SW3 6LY, UK.


Most of the patients with asthma are found to be successfully treated with conventional therapy. However, there are a small proportion of asthmatic patients who fail to respond to corticosteroids even at high doses or with supplementary therapy. In addition, even high doses of corticosteroids have a minimal effect on the inexorable decline in lung function in COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and only a small effect in reducing exacerbations. Corticosteroid-insensitivity therefore presents a profound management problem. Corticosteroids act through a cytosolic receptor [GR (glucocorticoid receptor)], which is activated and translocates to the nucleus. Once in the nucleus, it either binds to DNA and switches on the expression of anti-inflammatory genes or represses the activity of distinct signalling pathways such as NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB), AP-1 (activator protein-1) or MAPKs (mitogen-activated protein kinases). This latter step requires the recruitment of co-repressor molecules. A failure to respond to corticosteroids may therefore result from lack of binding to GR, reduced GR expression, lack of co-repressor activity or enhanced activation of inflammatory pathways. These events can be modulated by oxidative stress or high levels of inflammatory cytokines, which may lead to a reduced clinical outcome. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of GR action, and inaction, may lead to the development of new anti-inflammatory drugs or reverse the relative corticosteroid-insensitivity that is characteristic of these diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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