Temperature-responsive release of cortisol from its binding globulin: A protein thermocouple

G Cameron, DE Henley, R Carrell, A Zhou, AR Clarke, SL Lightman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Only 5% of circulating cortisol is active and unbound to carrier proteins. Because cortisol levels vary rapidly due to the pulsatile nature of cortisol secretion, the dynamics of cortisol binding are critical determinants of tissue levels of free cortisol and consequent hormonal signaling. The major glucocorticoid carrier protein is corticosteroid binding globulin (CBG), a member of the serpin family that undergoes conformational changes to bind and release hormones. This mechanism has been noted to be temperature responsive, and we have now investigated the effects of temperature on the binding of human CBG to both cortisol and progesterone. Methods: Recombinant human CBG was synthesized and used for binding studies with cortisol and progesterone between 34 and 43 C. Binding was monitored by recording the change in intrinsic protein fluorescence. Binding of the steroids to the other major carrier, serum albumin, was measured in a similar manner. Results: There was no effect of temperature on the interaction between human serum albumin and either cortisol or progesterone. The association of both cortisol and progesterone with CBG is more than three orders of magnitude greater than that with HSA, and this interaction was extremely responsive to changes in temperature. The affinity of both cortisol and progesterone for CBG drops approximately 16-fold as temperature increases from 35 to 42 C. Conclusions: This study clearly shows that even within the clinically relevant range of temperatures found in humans, CBG acts as a protein thermocouple that is exquisitely sensitive to temperature change and will release cortisol in response to fever or external sources of heat. This has major implications for our understanding of cortisol regulation in febrile patients.
Translated title of the contributionTemperature-responsive release of cortisol from its binding globulin: A protein thermocouple
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4689 - 4695
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Volume95 (10)
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Temperature-responsive release of cortisol from its binding globulin: A protein thermocouple'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this