BACKGROUND: Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene NR3C1 have been associated with an altered sensitivity to glucocorticoids, and thus may alter the therapeutic effects of glucocorticoids. We investigated the prevalence of adrenal suppression after treatment with glucocorticoids and evaluated whether GR SNPs were associated with altered risks of adrenal suppression and metabolic disorders in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
METHODS: In an observational prospective cohort study, we recruited 78 patients with severe COPD receiving 5 days glucocorticoid treatment for an exacerbation of COPD. In total, 55% of these patients were also receiving regular inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). Adrenal function was evaluated with a corticotropin test 30 days after the exacerbation. Patients were genotyped for Bcl1, N363S, ER22/23EK, and 9β SNPs.
RESULTS: The prevalence of adrenal suppression (corticotropin-stimulated plasma-cortisol ≤ 420 nmol/L) 30 days after glucocorticoid treatment was 4/78 (5%). There was no difference between carriers and non-carriers of the polymorphisms (Bcl1, 9β, ER22/23K, and N363S) in corticotropin stimulated plasma-cortisol concentrations. In the haplotype analyses, we included the 50 patients who had a high-sensitivity (76%), a low-sensitivity (4%), or a wild-type (20%) GR haplotype. There was no difference in the frequency of adrenal suppression or metabolic disorders between the two stratified groups: (a) high-sensitivity (Bcl1 and/or N363S) haplotypes vs. (b) low-sensitivity (9β and/or ER22/23K) plus wild-type haplotypes (p > 0.05). Carriers of the high-sensitivity GR gene haplotype exhibited a steeper decline in stimulated P-cortisol with increased ICS dose (slope, -1.35 vs. 0.94; p = 0.17), compared to the group with low-sensitivity or wild-type haplotypes, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: In total, 5% of patients exhibited insufficient adrenal function. The Bcl1 and N363S polymorphisms did not seem to increase the risk of glucocorticoid suppression or metabolic disorders in adults treated with glucocorticoids for COPD exacerbations.