Glucocorticoids are pleiotropic hormones, which are involved in almost every cellular, molecular and physiologic network of the organism, and regulate a broad spectrum of physiologic functions essential for life. The cellular response to glucocorticoids displays profound variability both in magnitude and in specificity of action. Tissue sensitivity to glucocorticoids differs among individuals, within tissues of the same individual and within the same cell. The actions of glucocorticoids are mediated by the glucocorticoid receptor, a ubiquitously expressed intracellular, ligand-dependent transcription factor. Multiple mechanisms, such as pre-receptor ligand metabolism, receptor isoform expression, and receptor-, tissue-, and cell type-specific factors, exist to generate diversity as well as specificity in the response to glucocorticoids. Alterations in the molecular mechanisms of glucocorticoid receptor action impair glucocorticoid signal transduction and alter tissue sensitivity to glucocorticoids. This review summarizes the recent advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms determining tissue sensitivity to glucocorticoids with particular emphasis on novel mutations and new information on the circadian rhythm and ligand-induced repression of the glucocorticoid receptor.