Membrane glucocorticoid receptors (mGCR) are expressed in normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells and up-regulated after in vitro stimulation and in patients with rheumatoid arthritis

FASEB J. 2004 Jan;18(1):70-80. doi: 10.1096/fj.03-0328com.


Glucocorticoids mediate their therapeutic actions mostly by genomic effects via cytosolic receptors, but some effects are too rapid to be mediated by changes at the genomic level. The detailed mechanisms of these nongenomic actions are still unclear. Membrane-bound glucocorticoid receptors (mGCR) have been suggested to be involved, although their physiological existence in humans so far is hypothetical. For the first time we demonstrate the existence of mGCR on monocytes and B cells obtained from healthy blood donors using high-sensitivity immunofluorescent staining. Immunostimulation with lipopolysaccharide increases the percentage of mGCR-positive monocytes, which can be prevented by inhibiting the secretory pathway. Overexpression of the human glucocorticoid receptor alpha alone is not sufficient to enhance mGCR expression. These in vitro findings are consistent with our clinical observation that in patients with rheumatoid arthritis the frequency of mGCR positive monocytes is increased and positively correlated with disease activity. We conclude that mGCR are 1) indeed physiologically present in healthy blood donors, but remained unidentified by conventional techniques due to their small number per cell and 2) actively up-regulated and transported through the cell after immunostimulation. These receptors may reflect a feedback mechanism of the organism upon immunostimulation and/or play a role in pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique / methods
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / chemistry
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Liposomes
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / drug effects
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / analysis
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Liposomes
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid