Tissue-specific dysregulation of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 and pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome

P. Putignano, F. Pecori Giraldi, F. Cavagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glucocorticoids are important regulators of glucose, lipid and protein metabolism, acting mainly in the liver, adipose tissue and muscle. Chronic glucocorticoid excess is associated with clinical features, such as insulin resistance, visceral obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, which also represent the classical hallmarks of the metabolic syndrome. Elevenβ-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD-1), a key intracellular enzyme which catalyses the conversion of inactive cortisone to active cortisol, has been implicated in the development of the metabolic syndrome. The shift of this reaction towards cortisol generation may lead to tissutal overexposure to glucocorticoids even with normal circulating cortisol levels. The most robust evidence in support of a pathogenetic role of this enzyme in the development of the metabolic syndrome has been reported in experimental animals, whereas results of human studies are less convincing with several case control and cross-sectional studies showing an association between with 11β-HSD-1 setpoint and individual features of the metabolic syndrome. However, recent data suggest a tissue-specific rather than systemic alteration of this shuttle, with down-regulation in liver but up-regulation in adipose tissue and skeletal muscle of obese subjects. New techniques based on direct tissutal estimates of cortisol /cortisone ratios are clearly needed to precisely assess the role of enzyme in all target tissues. If confirmed, these results would prompt the development of selective and tissue-specific 11β-HSD-1 inhibitors to decrease insulin resistance and treat the metabolic syndrome, thus contrasting the harmful effects of glucocorticoid excess in peripheral tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)969-974
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Endocrinological Investigation
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


  • 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1
  • Cortisol
  • Cortisone
  • Metabolic syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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