Glucocorticoid therapy for immune-mediated diseases: basic and clinical correlates

Ann Intern Med. 1993 Dec 15;119(12):1198-208. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-119-12-199312150-00007.


Glucocorticoids are pleiotropic hormones that at pharmacologic doses prevent or suppress inflammation and other immunologically mediated processes. At the molecular level, glucocorticoids form complexes with specific receptors that migrate to the nucleus where they interact with selective regulatory sites within DNA; this results in positive and negative modulation of several genes involved in inflammatory and immune responses. At the cellular level, glucocorticoids inhibit the access of leukocytes to inflammatory sites; interfere with the functions of leukocytes, endothelial cells, and fibroblasts; and suppress the production and the effects of humoral factors involved in the inflammatory response. Clinically, several modes of glucocorticoid administration are used, depending on the disease process, the organ involved, and the extent of involvement. High doses of daily glucocorticoids are usually required in patients with severe diseases involving major organs, whereas alternate-day regimens may be used in patients with less aggressive diseases. Intravenous glucocorticoids (pulse therapy) are frequently used to initiate therapy in patients with rapidly progressive, immunologically mediated diseases. The benefits of glucocorticoid therapy can easily be offset by severe side effects; even with the greatest care, side effects may occur. Moreover, for certain complications (for example, infection diathesis, peptic ulcer, osteoporosis, avascular necrosis, and atherosclerosis), other drug toxicities and pathogenic factors overlap with glucocorticoid effects. Minimizing the incidence and severity of glucocorticoid-related side effects requires carefully decreasing the dose; using adjunctive disease-modifying immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agents; and taking general preventive measures.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cells / drug effects
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Glucocorticoids