Functional profile of the binary brain corticosteroid receptor system: Mediating, multitasking, coordinating, integrating

Publication Type:

Journal Article


de Kloet, E.R.


European Journal of Pharmacology (2013)


1879-0712 (Electronic)00

DOI Name (links to online publication)



This contribution to Willem Hendrik Gispen's 'Festschrift' is focused on the action of the naturally occurring corticosteroids, cortisol and corticosterone, which are secreted from the adrenals in hourly pulses and after stress with the goal to maintain resilience and health. To achieve this goal the action of the corticosteroids displays an impressive diversity, because it is cell-specific and context-dependent in coordinating the individual's response to changing environments. These diverse actions of corticosterone are mediated by mineralocorticoid- and glucocorticoid-receptors that operate as a binary system in concert with neurotransmitter and neuropeptide signals to activate and inhibit stress reactions, respectively. Classically MR and GR are gene transcription factors, but recently these receptors appear to mediate also rapid non-genomic actions on excitatory neurotransmission suggesting that they integrate functions over time. Hence the balance of receptor-mediated actions is crucial for homeostasis. This balanced function of mineralo- and glucocorticoid-receptors can be altered epigenetically by a history of traumatic (early) life events and the experience of repeated stressors as well as by predisposing genetic variants in signaling pathways of these receptors. One of these variants, mineralocorticoid receptor haplotype 2, is associated with dispositional optimism in appraisal of environmental challenges. Imbalance in receptor-mediated corticosterone actions was found to leave a genomic signature highlighting the role of master switches such as cAMP response element-binding protein and mammalian target of rapamycin to compromise health, and to promote vulnerability to disease. Diabetic encephalopathy is a pathology of imbalanced corticosterone action, which can be corrected in its pre-stage by a brief treatment with the antiglucocorticoid mifepristone.