Glucocorticoid receptor phosphorylation: overview, function and cell cycle-dependence

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1998 Apr;65(1-6):91-9. doi: 10.1016/s0960-0760(97)00185-4.


All steroid hormone receptors are phosphorylated and undergo hormone-induced hyperphosphorylation. Most phosphorylated residues identified so far are serines in the N-terminal domain. Other residues and domains may also be phosphorylated, e.g. the estrogen receptor is phosphorylated on tyrosine in the hormone-binding domain. Many sites lie in consensus sequences for proline-directed, cell cycle-associated kinases. In some receptors hyperphosphorylation is induced by hormone antagonists as well as agonists, and leads to new phosphorylated sites. With glucocorticoid receptors, hyperphosphorylation is specific for glucocorticoid agonists, follows receptor activation and produces no new sites. Rate studies suggest that hyperphosphorylation is due to accelerated phosphorylation rather than delayed dephosphorylation. Evidence to date indicates that steroid hormone receptor phosphorylation serves not as an on-off switch but modulates function more subtly. Mutations of phosphorylated sites to alanine have been found to decrease activity by 0 to 90%, depending on mutated site, cell type, reporter gene and hormone concentration. With glucocorticoid receptors, some alanine mutants are up to 75% less active in hormone-induced transactivation of certain reporter genes. They are also inactive in hormone-induced repression of transcription of their own gene and down regulation of the receptor protein. Furthermore, they are much less sensitive to degradation. Both basal phosphorylation and hormone-dependent hyperphosphorylation of these receptors are cell cycle-dependent, basal phosphorylation being low in S phase and high in G2/M and hyperphosphorylation the reverse, suggesting a causal relation to the cell cycle-dependence of glucocorticoid activity reported with several cell lines. Hyperphosphorylation appears to be regulated by basal phosphorylation through negative charge in the N-terminal domain, which in S phase is relatively low and permits hyperphosphorylation, but in G2/M is relatively high and blocks hyperphosphorylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Phosphorylation
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid