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Mark Nixon, Rita Upreti and Ruth Andrew

5α-Reduced glucocorticoids (GCs) are formed when one of the two isozymes of 5α-reductase reduces the Δ4–5 double bond in the A-ring of GCs. These steroids are largely viewed inert, despite the acceptance that other 5α-dihydro steroids, e.g. 5α-dihydrotestosterone, retain or have increased activity at their cognate receptors. However, recent findings suggest that 5α-reduced metabolites of corticosterone have dissociated actions on GC receptors (GRs) in vivo and in vitro and are thus potential candidates for safer anti-inflammatory steroids. 5α-Dihydro- and 5α-tetrahydro-corticosterone can bind with GRs, but interest in these compounds had been limited, since they only weakly activated metabolic gene transcription. However, a greater understanding of the signalling mechanisms has revealed that transactivation represents only one mode of signalling via the GR and recently the abilities of 5α-reduced GCs to suppress inflammation have been demonstrated in vitro and in vivo. Thus, the balance of parent GC and its 5α-reduced metabolite may critically affect the profile of GR signalling. 5α-Reduction of GCs is up-regulated in liver in metabolic disease and may represent a pathway that protects from both GC-induced fuel dyshomeostasis and concomitant inflammatory insult. Therefore, 5α-reduced steroids provide hope for drug development, but may also act as biomarkers of the inflammatory status of the liver in metabolic disease. With these proposals in mind, careful attention must be paid to the possible adverse metabolic effects of 5α-reductase inhibitors, drugs that are commonly administered long term for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia.

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Dieuwertje C E Spaanderman, Mark Nixon, Jacobus C Buurstede, Hetty H C M Sips, Maaike Schilperoort, Eline N Kuipers, Emma A Backer, Sander Kooijman, Patrick C N Rensen, Natalie Z M Homer, Brian R Walker, Onno C Meijer and Jan Kroon

Glucocorticoid signaling is context dependent, and in certain scenarios, glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) are able to engage with other members of the nuclear receptor subfamily. Glucocorticoid signaling can exert sexually dimorphic effects, suggesting a possible interaction with androgen sex hormones. We therefore set out to determine the crosstalk between glucocorticoids and androgens in metabolic tissues including white adipose tissue, liver and brown adipose tissue. Thereto we exposed male C57BL/6J mice to elevated levels of corticosterone in combination with an androgen receptor (AR) agonist or an AR antagonist. Systemic and local glucocorticoid levels were determined by mass spectrometry, and tissue expression of glucocorticoid-responsive genes and protein was measured by RT-qPCR and Western blot, respectively. To evaluate crosstalk in vitro, cultured white and brown adipocytes were exposed to a combination of corticosterone and an AR agonist. We found that AR agonism potentiated transcriptional response to GR in vitro in white and brown adipocytes and in vivo in white and brown adipose tissues. Conversely, AR antagonism substantially attenuated glucocorticoid signaling in white adipose tissue and liver. In white adipose tissue, this effect could partially be attributed to decreased 11B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1-mediated glucocorticoid regeneration upon AR antagonism. In liver, attenuated GR activity was independent of active glucocorticoid ligand levels. We conclude that androgen signaling modulates GR transcriptional output in a tissue-specific manner.