Glucocorticosteroids are a very effective treatment for asthma and other chronic inflammatory diseases. However, a small proportion of patients is resistant to the therapeutic effects of glucocorticoids. Pharmacokinetic and ligand binding studies suggest that the molecular abnormality in steroid resistance lies distal to nuclear translocation. We have previously reported that there is a decreased ability of glucocorticoid receptors (GR) to bind to the DNA-binding site in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) after dexamethasone treatment. This reduced DNA binding was due to a decrease in the number of receptors available rather than an alteration in affinity for DNA. To study this reduced DNA binding, we examined the ability of the nuclear translocated transcription factors activator protein 1 (AP-1), nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappa B) and cyclic AMP response element-binding protein (CREB) to bind to their DNA-binding sites and to interact with GR in PBMC from patients with steroid-sensitive and steroid-resistant asthma. There was a significant reduction in the interaction between GR and AP-1 in these steroid-resistant patients, although interaction with other transcription factors activated in inflammation (NF-kappa B and CREB) was unaffected. An increase in the basal levels of AP-1 DNA binding was also detected in the nuclei from steroid-resistant asthmatic patients. There were no differences in the amount of messenger RNA detected for the components of AP-1, c-Fos and c-Jun, nor in the sequences of these messenger RNAs. These results suggest either that the ability of the GR to bind to glucocorticoid response elements and AP-1 is altered in steroid-resistant patients or that increased levels of AP-1 prevent GR DNA binding, and that this may be the molecular basis of resistance to the antiinflammatory effect of steroids in these cells.

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