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Glucocorticoids (or, less commonly, glucocorticosteroids) are a class of corticosteroids, which are a class of steroid hormones. Glucocorticoids are corticosteroids that bind to the glucocorticoid receptor that is present in almost every vertebrate animal cell. The name "glucocorticoid" is a portmanteau (glucose + cortex + steroid) and is composed from its role in regulation of glucose metabolism, synthesis in the adrenal cortex, and its steroidal structure (see structure below).
|Use||Adrenal insufficiency; allergic, inflammatory, and autoimmune disorders; asthma; organ transplant|
|Biological target||Glucocorticoid receptor|
Glucocorticoids are part of the feedback mechanism in the immune system, which reduces certain aspects of immune function, such as inflammation. They are therefore used in medicine to treat diseases caused by an overactive immune system, such as allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and sepsis. Glucocorticoids have many diverse effects such as pleiotropy, including potentially harmful side effects. They also interfere with some of the abnormal mechanisms in cancer cells, so they are used in high doses to treat cancer. This includes inhibitory effects on lymphocyte proliferation, as in the treatment of lymphomas and leukemias, and the mitigation of side effects of anticancer drugs.
Glucocorticoids affect cells by binding to the glucocorticoid receptor. The activated glucocorticoid receptor-glucocorticoid complex up-regulates the expression of anti-inflammatory proteins in the nucleus (a process known as transactivation) and represses the expression of proinflammatory proteins in the cytosol by preventing the translocation of other transcription factors from the cytosol into the nucleus (transrepression).
Glucocorticoids are distinguished from mineralocorticoids and sex steroids by their specific receptors, target cells, and effects. In technical terms, "corticosteroid" refers to both glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids (as both are mimics of hormones produced by the adrenal cortex), but is often used as a synonym for "glucocorticoid". Glucocorticoids are chiefly produced in the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex, whereas mineralocorticoids are synthesized in the zona glomerulosa.
Cortisol (or hydrocortisone) is the most important human glucocorticoid. It is essential for life, and it regulates or supports a variety of important cardiovascular, metabolic, immunologic, and homeostatic functions. Various synthetic glucocorticoids are available; these are widely utilized in general medical practice and numerous specialties, either as replacement therapy in glucocorticoid deficiency or to suppress the body's immune system.