Our research group studies how steroid hormones work at a molecular level. Steroid hormones help regulate metabolism. These hormones also control inflammation and immune responses. They control the balance between water and salt as well as the development of sex characteristics. We study how they interact with other molecules to influence whether genes are turned “up” or “down”.
To do their jobs, steroid hormones must stimulate their receptors. Then, the receptors send signals within the cell. The cell reads this signal and sends a message to other cells. Steroid receptors vary in the level of hormones required to send such signals. This is important during development, when a single level of hormone is present and has different effects. This mechanism also contributes to the specialization of tissues for different roles in the body as well as the maintenance of an overall biological balance. In these examples, a single level of hormone in the blood affects gene expression differently, depending on the cell and even various genes within the same cell. Scientists propose that each of these variations in gene expression proceed via a different pathway.
Our group has identified many molecular components that influence the activities of glucocorticoid receptors. Several of these molecular components also influence the activities of receptors for other types of hormones. For example, they can influence sex characteristics and the balance between water and salt. Interestingly, different receptors in the same gene in the same cell can have opposite responses to a specific molecular component. These opposite responses are relevant to disease treatment. They may explain why a given cellular gene responds in distinct ways to a variety of steroid hormones.
We are now using a mathematical model in our research. It will help us gain greater insight into the importance of factors that influence how steroid hormones work.