The glucocorticoid receptor: cause of or cure for obesity?

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Feb 15;310(4):E249-57. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00478.2015. Epub 2015 Dec 29.


Glucocorticoid hormones (GCs) are important regulators of lipid metabolism, promoting lipolysis with acute treatment but lipogenesis with chronic exposure. Conventional wisdom posits that these disparate outcomes are mediated by the classical glucocorticoid receptor GRα. There is insufficient knowledge of the GC receptors (GRα and GRβ) in metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. We present acute models of GC exposure that induce lipolysis, such as exercise, as well as chronic-excess models that cause obesity and lipid accumulation in the liver, such as hepatic steatosis. Alternative mechanisms are then proposed for the lipogenic actions of GCs, including induction of GC resistance by the GRβ isoform, and promotion of lipogenesis by GC activation of the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR). Finally, the potential involvement of chaperone proteins in the regulation of adipogenesis is considered. This reevaluation may prove useful to future studies on the steroidal basis of adipogenesis and obesity.

Keywords: adipogenesis; adipose differentiation; glucocorticoid receptor; glucocorticoid receptor-α; glucocorticoid receptor-β; glucocorticoids; lipolysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism*
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Lipogenesis
  • Lipolysis
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid / metabolism


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Receptors, Mineralocorticoid
  • glucocorticoid receptor alpha
  • glucocorticoid receptor beta