, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 15-22

Mineralocorticoid Receptors: Distribution and Activation

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Mineralocorticoid receptors (MR) bind both mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids with high affinity (deoxycorticosterone = corticosterone ≥ aldosterone = cortisol), and are found in both Na+ transporting epithelia (e.g. kidney, colon) and nonepithelial tissues (e.g. heart, brain). MR evolved before aldosterone synthase, consistent with their acting in nonepithelial tissues as high affinity glucocorticoid receptors, essentially always occupied by normal levels of endogenous glucocorticoids. In epithelial tissues the enzyme 11β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase Type 2 (11βHSD2) allows aldosterone to selectively activate MR, by converting cortisol to cortisone and NAD to NADH. 11βHSD2 debulks intracellular cortisol by 90%, to levels ∼10-fold those of aldosterone, so that when the enzyme is operating most epithelial MR are occupied but not activated by cortisol. When intracellular redox state is changed—by inhibition of 11β HSD2, generation of reactive oxygen species, or intracellular introduction of oxidised glutathione (GSSG)—cortisol changes from an MR antagonist to an MR agonist. This bivalent activity of cortisol appears to underlie the therapeutic efficacy of MR blockade in heart failure (RALES, EPHESUS) and in essential hypertension, providing a rationale for MR blockade in cardiovascular disease not characterized by elevated aldosterone levels. Its wider (patho)physiologic implications, particularly for neurobiology, remain to be explored.