Glucocorticoid action networks and complex psychiatric and/or somatic disorders

Stress. 2007 Jun;10(2):213-9. doi: 10.1080/10253890701292119.


Glucocorticoids contribute fundamentally to the maintenance of basal and stress-related homeostasis in all higher organisms. These hormones influence a large percentage of the expressed human genome and their effects spare almost no organs or tissues. Glucocorticoids influence many functions of the central nervous system, such as arousal, cognition, mood and sleep, the activity and direction of intermediary metabolism, the maintenance of a normal cardiovascular tone, the activity and quality of the immune and inflammatory reaction, including the manifestations of the sickness syndrome, as well as growth and reproduction. The numerous actions of glucocorticoids are mediated by a set of at least 16 glucocorticoid receptor (GR) isoforms forming homo- or hetero-dimers. The GRs consist of multifunctional domain proteins operating as ligand-dependent transcription factors that interact with many other cell signaling systems. The presence of multiple GR monomers and dimers expressed in a cell-specific fashion at different quantities with quantitatively and qualitatively different transcriptional activities suggests that the glucocorticoid signaling system is highly stochastic. Based on ample evidence, we present our conception that glucocorticoids are heavily involved in human pathophysiology and influence life expectancy. Common psychiatric and/or somatic complex disorders, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain and fatigue syndromes, obesity, the metabolic syndrome, essential hypertension, diabetes type 2, atherosclerosis with its cardiovascular sequelae, and osteoporosis, as well as autoimmune inflammatory and allergic disorders, all appear to have a glucocorticoid component.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Glucocorticoids / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid