Author(s): Rebecca A. Lee, Charles A. Harris, and Jen-Chywan Wang
Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that play a key role in metabolic adaptations during stress, such as fasting and starvation, in order to maintain plasma glucose levels. Excess and chronic glucocorticoid exposure, however, causes metabolic syndrome including insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hyperglycemia. Studies in animal models of metabolic disorders frequently demonstrate that suppressing glucocorticoid signaling improves insulin sensitivity and metabolic profiles. Glucocorticoids convey their signals through an intracellular glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which is a transcriptional regulator. The adipocyte is one cell type that contributes to whole body metabolic homeostasis under the influence of GR. Glucocorticoids’ functions on adipose tissues are complex. Depending on various physiological or pathophysiological states as well as distinct fat depots, glucocorticoids can either increase or decrease lipid storage in adipose tissues. In rodents, glucocorticoids have been shown to reduce the thermogenic activity of brown adipocytes. However, in human acute glucocorticoid exposure, glucocorticoids act to promote thermogenesis. In this article, we will review the recent studies on the mechanisms underlying the complex metabolic functions of GR in adipocytes. These include studies of the metabolic outcomes of adipocyte specific GR knockout mice and identification of novel GR primary target genes that mediate glucocorticoid action in adipocytes.