Steroid resistance in severe asthma: current mechanisms and future treatment

Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(7):674-84. doi: 10.2174/138161211795428984.


The disproportionate cost of treating asthmatic patients who do not respond to conventional anti-inflammatory therapies makes delineation of the mechanism for glucocorticoid resistance an important field of asthma research. Unbiased cluster analysis indicates that asthma is a syndrome with a number of distinct phenotypes and 5-10% of asthmatics fall into this category of relative glucocorticoid insensitivity. This sub-population is itself divided into smaller subsets which have different underlying mechanisms for this relative glucocorticoid resistance ranging from an inherited genetic basis to specific kinase signalling pathways triggered by exposure to environmental stressors such as cigarette smoking or infection. Whilst the underlying mechanisms are becoming better understood there remains a lack of effective novel therapies. However it is clear that relative glucocorticoid insensitive patients who are smokers should be encouraged to quit, thereby reducing their oxidant load. Novel treatments will consist of either developing new anti-inflammatory treatments targeting pathways aberrantly activated in these patients or of suppressing signalling pathways that attenuate glucocorticoid receptor function and thereby restoring glucocorticoid sensitivity. It will be important to uncover non-invasive biomarkers for aberrant pathway activation and for discerning which components of glucocorticoid receptor activation are abnormal if future treatments are to be tailored to address these specific issues. Conventional combination therapies will continue to be used in the near future but additional add-on treatments using drugs directed against aberrantly expressed inflammatory pathways or mediators along with an inhaled glucocorticoid are likely to prove the most effective new therapies in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Drug Resistance / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance / immunology
  • Forecasting
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / immunology
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • Steroids / pharmacology
  • Steroids / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Steroids