Mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), a hormone-activated transcription factor belonging to the nuclear receptor superfamily, exerts widespread actions in many tissues such as tight epithelia, the cardiovascular system, adipose tissues and macrophages. In the mammalian brain, MR is present in the limbic areas where it is highly expressed in neurons of the hippocampus and mostly absent in other regions while the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression is ubiquitous. MR binds both aldosterone and glucocorticoids, the latter having a ten-fold higher affinity for MR than for the closely related GR. However, owing to the minimal aldosterone transfer across the blood brain barrier and the absence of neuronal 11β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 as an intracellular gate-keeper, neuronal MR appears to be fully occupied even at low physiological glucocorticoid levels while GR activation only occurs at high glucocorticoid concentrations, i.e. at the peak of the circadian rhythm or under stress. This defined a one hormone/two receptors system that works in balance, modulating a large spectrum of actions in the central nervous system. MR and GR are involved in the stress responses, the regulation of neuron excitability, long term potentiation, neuroprotection and neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. MR thus constitutes a key factor in the arising of higher cognitive functions such as memorization, learning and mood. This review presents an overview of various roles of MR in the central nervous system which are somewhat less studied than that of GR, in the light of recent data obtained using cellular models, animal models and clinical investigations.
Keywords: Corticosteroids; Hippocampus; Mineralocorticoid receptor; Neurogenesis; Stress.
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