Synthetic glucocorticoids are the most potent anti-inflammatory agents used to treat chronic inflammatory disease, such as asthma. However, a small number (<5%) of asthmatic patients and almost all patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) do not respond well, or at all, to glucocorticoid therapy. If the molecular mechanism of glucocorticoid insensitivity is uncovered, it may in turn provide insight into the key mechanism of glucocorticoid action and allow a rational way to implement treatment regimens that restore glucocorticoid sensitivity. Glucocorticoids exert their effects by binding to a cytoplasmic glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which is subjected to post-translational modifications. Receptor phosphorylation, acetylation, nitrosylation, ubiquitinylation, and other modifications influence hormone binding, nuclear translocation, and protein half-life. Analysis of GR interactions to other molecules, such as coactivators or corepressors, may explain the genetic specificity of GR action. Priming with inflammatory cytokine or oxidative/nitrative stress is a mechanism for the glucocorticoid resistance observed in chronic inflammatory airway disease via reduction of corepressors or GR modification. Therapies targeting these aspects of the GR activation pathway may reverse glucocorticoid resistance in patients with glucocorticoid-insensitive airway disease and some patients with other inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.