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The Hepatic Glucocorticoid Receptor Is Crucial for Cortisol Homeostasis and Sepsis Survival in Humans and Male Mice

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Sepsis is hallmarked by hypercortisolemia, a stress response essential for survival. This elevation in plasma cortisol is partially brought about by suppressed hepatic cortisol breakdown. We demonstrate that a controlled downregulation of the hepatic glucocorticoid receptor (hepatic GR) is crucial. In a mouse model of fluid-resuscitated, antibiotic-treated abdominal sepsis and in human intensive care unit patients, sepsis reduced hepatic GR expression and signaling but increased (free) plasma cortisol/corticosterone, explained by suppressed cortisol/corticosterone-binding proteins and A-ring reductases. However, further experimental inhibition of hepatic GR with short hairpin RNA (shRNA) in septic mice increased mortality fivefold. Acutely, this further hepatic GR suppression prevented the rise in total corticosterone but further reduced binding proteins, resulting in elevated free corticosterone. After 3 days of shRNA-GR inhibition in sepsis, both total and free corticosterone levels were elevated, now explained by an additional reduction in A-ring reductase expression. Hepatic GR inhibition blunted the hyperglycemic stress response without causing hypoglycemia but also markedly increased circulating and hepatic inflammation markers and caused liver destruction, the severity of which explained increased mortality. In human sepsis, glucocorticoid treatment further suppressed hepatic GR expression, which could directly predispose to worse outcomes. In conclusion, sepsis partially suppressed hepatic GR expression, which appeared crucial to upregulate free cortisol/corticosterone availability. However, further sustained hepatic GR suppression evoked lethal excessive liver and systemic inflammation, independent of systemic cortisol/corticosterone availability.
Journal: Endocrinology
ISSN: 0013-7227
Issue: 7
Volume: 159
Pages: 2790 - 2802
Number of pages: 13
Publication year:2018