Cross-talk between pro-inflammatory transcription factors and glucocorticoids

Immunol Cell Biol. 2001 Aug;79(4):376-84. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1711.2001.01025.x.


Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway that is characterized by cellular infiltration and activation. These processes are induced by overexpression of chemokines and cytokines, such as eotaxin, IL-1beta and GM-CSF. These mediators are downstream targets for the transcription factors activator protein-1 (AP-1) and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), which control the expression of most immunomodulatory genes and whose activity and expression are elevated in asthma. Glucocorticoids are the most effective anti-inflammatory drugs used in the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma. They act by binding to a specific glucocorticoid receptor (GR) that on activation translocates to the nucleus and either increases (transactivates) or decreases (transrepresses) the expression of responsive genes. Transrepression is the major mechanism of glucocorticoid action in inhibiting inflammatory gene expression. Thus, the ability of the transcription factors AP-1 and NF-kappaB to induce gene transcription is attenuated by GR. Although only 5-10% of asthmatic subjects are glucocorticoid-insensitive, these subjects account for over 50% of the health-care costs for asthma (> $6 billion per annum). Examining these patients also gives an insight into important aspects of glucocorticoid action in controlling inflammation and into the development of potential new drugs. Biochemical and genomic studies have indicated abnormal induction of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway in some of these patients. The ability of most patients to respond to dexamethasone with induction of histone acetylation correlated with nuclear translocation of GR. However, a subgroup of these patients had an inability to correctly interact with the basal transcription complex in spite of high levels of nuclear GR. This suggests that cross-talk between pro- and anti-inflammatory transcription factors may modulate activation of the transcriptional complex and thereby reduce steroid actions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Steroids
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Histones
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Steroids
  • Transcription Factors