Glucocorticoids (GC) such as cortisol regulate multiple physiological functions, notably those involved in development, metabolism, inflammatory processes and stress, and exert their effects upon binding to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR, encoded by NR3C1 gene in humans). GC signaling follows several consecutive steps leading to target gene transactivation, including ligand binding, nuclear translocation of ligand-activated GR complexes, DNA binding, and recruitment of functional transcriptional machinery. Generalized glucocorticoid resistance syndrome, due to GR loss-of-function mutations, may be related to the impairment of one of the GC signaling steps. To date, 31 NR3C1 loss-of-function mutations have been reported in patients presenting with various clinical signs such as hypertension, adrenal hyperplasia, hirsutism or metabolic disorders associated with biological hypercortisolism but without Cushing syndrome signs and no negative regulatory feedback loop on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Functional characterization of GR loss-of-function mutations often demonstrates GR haploinsufficiency and a decrease of GR target gene induction in relevant cell types. The main signs at presentation are very variable from resistant hypertension, bilateral adrenal hyperplasia likely related to increased ACTH levels but not exclusively, hirsutism to isolated renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system abnormalities in a context of 11βHSD2 deficiency. Some mutated GR patients are obese or overweight together with a healthier metabolic profile that remains to be further explored in future studies. Deciphering the molecular mechanisms altered by GR mutations should enhance our knowledge on GR signaling and ultimately facilitate management of GC-resistant patients. This review also focuses on the criteria facilitating identification of novel NR3C1 mutations in selected patients.
© 2020 European Society of Endocrinology