11 beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11 beta-OHSD) catalyzes the interconversion of cortisol and cortisone. This activity is postulated to protect the Type I (mineralocorticoid) receptor from excessive concentrations of cortisol, allowing aldosterone to function as a mineralocorticoid. An enzyme with 11 beta-OHSD activity was isolated from rat liver and the corresponding rat and human cDNA and genomic clones isolated. This enzyme is a member of the short-chain dehydrogenase family. Using site-directed mutagenesis, it was demonstrated that the amino terminus and two highly conserved residues, Tyr-179 and Lys-183, are required for enzymatic function. Examination of patients with apparent mineralocorticoid excess, a syndrome of juvenile hypertension thought to represent 11 beta-OHSD deficiency, did not reveal any mutations in the HSD11 gene. This disorder may involve an additional enzyme with 11 beta-OHSD activity or possibly another cortisol metabolizing enzyme.