Nuclear receptors and the control of metabolism

Annu Rev Physiol. 2003:65:261-311. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.65.092101.142528. Epub 2002 May 1.


The metabolic nuclear receptors act as metabolic and toxicological sensors, enabling the organism to quickly adapt to environmental changes by inducing the appropriate metabolic genes and pathways. Ligands for these metabolic receptors are compounds from dietary origin, intermediates in metabolic pathways, drugs, or other environmental factors that, unlike classical nuclear receptor ligands, are present in high concentrations. Metabolic receptors are master regulators integrating the homeostatic control of (a) energy and glucose metabolism through peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma); (b) fatty acid, triglyceride, and lipoprotein metabolism via PPARalpha, beta/delta, and gamma; (c) reverse cholesterol transport and cholesterol absorption through the liver X receptors (LXRs) and liver receptor homolog-1 (LRH-1); (d) bile acid metabolism through the farnesol X receptor (FXR), LXRs, LRH-1; and (e) the defense against xeno- and endobiotics by the pregnane X receptor/steroid and xenobiotic receptor (PXR/SXR). The transcriptional control of these metabolic circuits requires coordination between these metabolic receptors and other transcription factors and coregulators. Altered signaling by this subset of receptors, either through chronic ligand excess or genetic factors, may cause an imbalance in these homeostatic circuits and contribute to the pathogenesis of common metabolic diseases such as obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis, and gallbladder disease. Further studies should exploit the fact that many of these nuclear receptors are designed to respond to small molecules and turn them into therapeutic targets for the treatment of these disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear