Physiological Reviews

Nuclear Hormone Receptors and Gene Expression

Ana Aranda, Angel Pascual


The nuclear hormone receptor superfamily includes receptors for thyroid and steroid hormones, retinoids and vitamin D, as well as different “orphan” receptors of unknown ligand. Ligands for some of these receptors have been recently identified, showing that products of lipid metabolism such as fatty acids, prostaglandins, or cholesterol derivatives can regulate gene expression by binding to nuclear receptors. Nuclear receptors act as ligand-inducible transcription factors by directly interacting as monomers, homodimers, or heterodimers with the retinoid X receptor with DNA response elements of target genes, as well as by “cross-talking” to other signaling pathways. The effects of nuclear receptors on transcription are mediated through recruitment of coregulators. A subset of receptors binds corepressor factors and actively represses target gene expression in the absence of ligand. Corepressors are found within multicomponent complexes that contain histone deacetylase activity. Deacetylation leads to chromatin compactation and transcriptional repression. Upon ligand binding, the receptors undergo a conformational change that allows the recruitment of multiple coactivator complexes. Some of these proteins are chromatin remodeling factors or possess histone acetylase activity, whereas others may interact directly with the basic transcriptional machinery. Recruitment of coactivator complexes to the target promoter causes chromatin decompactation and transcriptional activation. The characterization of corepressor and coactivator complexes, in concert with the identification of the specific interaction motifs in the receptors, has demonstrated the existence of a general molecular mechanism by which different receptors elicit their transcriptional responses in target genes.


  • Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: A. Aranda, Instituto de Investigaciones Biomedicas, CSIC-UAM, Arturo Duperier 4, 28029 Madrid, Spain (E-mail: aaranda{at}

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