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Conserved Steroid Hormone Homology Converges on Nuclear Factor κB to Modulate Inflammation in Asthma
  1. Asha S. Payne, MD, MPH*†‡,
  2. Robert J. Freishtat, MD, MPH*†‡§
  1. From the *Division of Emergency Medicine and †Centers for Genetic Medicine Research, Children’s National Medical Center; and Departments of‡Pediatrics and §Integrative Systems Biology, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC.
  1. Received April 26, 2011, and in revised form October 11, 2011.
  2. Accepted for publication October 12, 2011.
  3. Reprints: Robert J. Freishtat, MD, MPH, Center for Genetic Medicine Research, Children’s National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave, NW, Washington, DC. E-mail: rfreishtat{at}
  4. Support by Grant K12HD001399-11 (A.S.P.).


Asthma is a complex, multifactorial disease comprising multiple different subtypes, rather than a single disease entity, yet it has a consistent clinical phenotype: recurring episodes of chest tightness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing (Pediatr Pulmonol Suppl. 1997;15:9–12). Despite the complex pathogenesis of asthma, steroid hormones (eg, glucocorticoids) are ubiquitous in the short-term and long-term management of all types of asthma. Overall, steroid hormones are a class of widely relevant, biologically active compounds originating from cholesterol and altered in a stepwise fashion, but maintain a basic 17-carbon, 4-ring structure. Steroids are lipophilic molecules that diffuse readily through cell membranes to directly and/or indirectly affect gene transcription. In addition, they use rapid, nongenomic actions to affect cellular products. Steroid hormones comprise several groups (including glucocorticoids, sex steroid hormones, and secosteroids) with critical divergent biological and physiological functions relevant to health and disease. However, the conserved homology of steroid hormone molecules, receptors, and signaling pathways suggests that each of these is part of a dynamic system of hormone interaction, likely involving an overlap of downstream signaling mechanisms. Therefore, we will review the similarities and differences of these 3 groups of steroid hormones (ie, glucocorticoids, sex steroid hormones, and secosteroids), identifying nuclear factor κB as a common inflammatory mediator. Despite our understanding of the impact of individual steroids (eg, glucocorticoids, sex steroids and secosteroids) on asthma, research has yet to explain the interplay of the dynamic system in which these hormones function. To do so, there needs to be a better understanding of the interplay of classic, nonclassic, and nongenomic steroid hormone functions. However, clues from the conserved homology steroid hormone structure and function and signaling pathways offer insight into a possible model of steroid hormone regulation of inflammation in asthma through common nuclear factor κB–mediated downstream events.

Key Words
  • asthma
  • hormones
  • inflammation
  • nuclear factor κB

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