Downregulation of cholesteryl ester transfer protein by glucocorticoids: a randomised study on HDL

Eur J Clin Invest. 2017 Jul;47(7):494-503. doi: 10.1111/eci.12770. Epub 2017 Jun 14.


Background: High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is not decreased in hypercortisolism despite high triglycerides, which may be ascribed to effects on the cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) pathway. We explored if CETP mRNA expression is modulated by glucocorticoid treatment in vitro. Effects of doubling the hydrocortisone (HCT) replacement dose on plasma CETP activity, and HDL characteristics were tested in patients with secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Materials and methods: Human THP-1 macrophages were incubated with corticosterone in vitro in the presence or absence of a liver X receptor (LXR) agonist, followed by determination of CETP mRNA levels by quantitative real-time PCR. In addition, a randomised double-blind cross-over study was performed in 47 patients with secondary adrenal insufficiency (university medical setting; 10 weeks exposure to a higher HCT dose (0·4-0·6 mg/kg body weight) vs. 10 weeks of a lower HCT dose (0·2-0·3 mg/kg body weight).

Results: Corticosterone dose dependently decreased CETP mRNA in THP-1 macrophages. Corticosterone also decreased CETP mRNA expression after LXR pretreatment. In patients, CETP activity decreased with doubling of the HCT dose (P = 0·049), coinciding with an increase in HDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I and the HDL cholesterol/apolipoprotein A-I ratio (reflecting HDL size; P < 0·01 for each). The increase in the HDL cholesterol/apolipoprotein A-I ratio was correlated with the decrease in plasma CETP activity (r = -0·442, P = 0·002).

Conclusion: Glucocorticoids downregulate CETP gene expression in a human macrophage cell system. In line, a higher glucocorticoid replacement dose decreases plasma CETP activity in patients, thereby contributing to higher HDL cholesterol and an increase in estimated HDL size.

Keywords: Cholesteryl ester transfer protein; glucocorticoids; high density lipoproteins; secondary adrenal failure.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cholesterol Ester Transfer Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol, HDL / metabolism
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Hypopituitarism / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • THP-1 Cells / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • CETP protein, human
  • Cholesterol Ester Transfer Proteins
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Hydrocortisone