Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates, as well as the synthetic analogues of these hormones. Two main classes of corticosteroids, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, are involved in a wide range of physiological processes, including stress response, immune response, and regulation of inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism, protein catabolism, blood electrolyte levels, and behavior.

Glucocorticoids such as cortisol affect carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism, and have anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, anti-proliferative, and vasoconstrictive effects. Anti-inflammatory effects are mediated by blocking the action of inflammatory mediators (transrepression) and inducing anti-inflammatory mediators (transactivation). Immunosuppressive effects are mediated by suppressing delayed hypersensitivity reactions by direct action on T-lymphocytes. Anti-proliferative effects are mediated by inhibition of DNA synthesis and epidermal cell turnover. Vasoconstrictive effects are mediated by inhibiting the action of inflammatory mediators such as histidine.

Mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone are primarily involved in the regulation of electrolyte and water balance by modulating ion transport in the epithelial cells of the renal tubules of the kidney.

Synthetic pharmaceutical drugs with corticosteroid-like effects are used in a variety of conditions, ranging from brain tumors to skin diseases. Dexamethasone and its derivatives are almost pure glucocorticoids, while prednisone and its derivatives have some mineralocorticoid action in addition to the glucocorticoid effect. Fludrocortisone (Florinef) is a synthetic mineralocorticoid. Hydrocortisone (cortisol) is typically used for replacement therapy, e.g. for adrenal insufficiency and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Topical formulations are also available for the skin, eyes (uveitis), lungs (asthma), nose (rhinitis), and bowels. Corticosteroids are also used supportively to prevent nausea, often in combination with 5-HT3 antagonists (e.g. ondansetron).

The corticosteroids are synthesized from cholesterol within the adrenal cortex. Most steroidogenic reactions are catalysed by enzymes of the cytochrome P450 family. They are located within the mitochondria and require adrenodoxin as a cofactor (except 21-hydroxylase and 17α-hydroxylase). Aldosterone and corticosterone share the first part of their biosynthetic pathway. The last part is mediated either by the aldosterone synthase (for aldosterone) or by the 11β-hydroxylase (for corticosterone). These enzymes are nearly identical (they share 11β-hydroxylation and 18-hydroxylation functions), but aldosterone synthase is also able to perform an 18-oxidation. Moreover, aldosterone synthase is found within the zona glomerulosa at the outer edge of the adrenal cortex; 11β-hydroxylase is found in the zona fasciculata and zona glomerulosa.

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