Endogenous glucocorticoids regulate an inducible cyclooxygenase enzyme

J. L. Masferrer, K. Seibert, B. Zweifel, P. Needleman

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The effect of endogenous glucocorticoids on the expression of the cyclooxygenase enzyme was studied by contrasting cyclooxygenase expression and prostanoid synthesis in adrenalectomized and sham-adrenalectomized mice with or without the concurrent administration of endotoxin. Peritoneal macrophages obtained from adrenalectomized mice showed a 2- to 3-fold induction in cyclooxygenase synthesis and activity when compared to sham controls. Intravenous injection of a sublethal dose of endotoxin (5 μg/kg) further stimulated cyclooxygenase synthesis, resulting in a 4-fold increase in prostaglandin production. Similar cyclooxygenase induction can be achieved in macrophages obtained from normal mice but only after high doses of endotoxin (2.5 mg/kg) that are 100% lethal to adrenalectomized mice. Restoration of glucocorticoids in adrenalectomized animals with dexamethasone completely inhibited the elevated cyclooxygenase and protected these animals from endotoxin-induced death. In contrast, no signs of cyclooxygenase induction were observed in the kidneys of the adrenalectomized mice, even when treated with endotoxin. Dexamethasone did not affect the constitutive cyclooxygenase activity and prostaglandin production present in normal and adrenalectomized kidneys. These data indicate the existence of a constitutive cyclooxygenase that is normally present in most cells and tissues and is unaffected by steroids and of an inducible cyclooxygenase that is expressed only in the context of inflammation by proinflammatory cells, like macrophages, and that is under glucocorticoid regulation. Under normal physiological conditions glucocorticoids maintain tonic inhibition of inducible cyclooxygenase expression. Depletion of glucocorticoids or the presence of an inflammatory stimulus such as endotoxin causes rapid induction of this enzyme, resulting in an exacerbated inflammatory response that is often lethal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3917-3921
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992


  • eicosanoids
  • macrophages
  • prostaglandins
  • steroids

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