Genomic Response of Human Immune and Non-Immune Cells to Glucocorticoids

  • End date
    Oct 1, 2023
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Updated on 21 October 2022
Accepts healthy volunteers



The immune system defends the body against bacteria and other harmful invaders. But it can overact and attack healthy cells by mistake. The group of drugs called glucocorticoids (GCs) can calm down an overactive immune system. But they often cause negative side effects. Researchers want to learn how human genes respond to GCs. Genes live inside each cell of the body. They tell our cells how to function. Researchers hope the results of this study will show them how to develop better drugs that will have the benefits of GCs without the side effects.


To study how human genes respond to glucocorticoid drugs.


Healthy adult volunteers ages 18 64.


Participants will be screened with a medical history and physical exam. They will have a heart test and blood tests.

The study visit will last about 6 hours.

Participants will have medical history, physical exam, and 3 blood draws.

Participants will have a skin biopsy. An injection will numb the skin on one arm. Then a tool will remove a piece of skin about as big as a pencil eraser.

A GC cream will be applied to the other arm.

Participants will get the GC study drug for 30 minutes. It will be a liquid that will drip through a needle placed in an arm vein.

Participants will have a skin biopsy of the arm that had the cream applied.

Participants will have follow-up calls 1 and 4 days later. They will be asked about reactions or other health problems.


Glucocorticoids are among the most frequently prescribed immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory medications worldwide. Long-term use, however, is complicated by serious non-immunologic side effects. Ongoing in vitro experiments with human primary cells in our laboratory suggest that there are indeed fundamental differences in the genomic response of immune and non-immune cells to glucocorticoids. These and other aspects of drug action at the genomic level have not been completely characterized. This study will attempt to generate a list of human genes and non-coding RNAs that are differentially expressed and regulated in response to glucocorticoids between immune and non-immune cells. These data will be used to identify transcripts, their corresponding proteins, and the molecular pathways that are best candidates for targeted intervention. Potential targets could be validated with small interfering RNA (siRNA) libraries, with the long-term goal of developing small-molecule or nanoparticlefacilitated RNA interference (RNAi) interventions that reproduce the therapeutic action of glucocorticoids in immune cells while avoiding their harmful side effects on other tissues.

Healthy volunteers will undergo baseline blood collection prior to receiving a single intravenous dose of 250 milligrams of methylprednisolone sodium succinate. Blood will be collected in one of two regimens: 1 and 2 hours or 2 and 4 hours after the start of the infusion. A skin punch biopsy may be obtained before healthy volunteers receive IV methylprednisolone. If so, topical methylprednisolone will be applied to a limited area of skin, contralateral to the site of the baseline skin biopsy, and an affitional skin biopsy will be obtained 4 hours after drug administration, from the area where topical methylprednisolone was applied. Follow-up phone calls 1 day and 1 week after discharge will document any adverse effects related to the drug or skin biopsy. Total length of individual study participation is 1-5 weeks.

Blood samples will be processed for isolation of hematopoietic cell sub-population (neutrophils, B cells, CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, monocytes, and natural killer [NK] cells). Laboratory studies will be performed in the purified cells, with the goal of understanding the human response to glucocorticoids in vivo at the level of RNA (e.g., RNA sequencing, small -RNA-sequencing, real-time PCR), DNA (e.g., ChIP-seq, methylation analysis, DNA sequencing, genotyping, and protein (e.g., flow cytometry, mass spectrometry). At each time point, serum methylprednisolone levels will be measured and flow cytometry for standard lineage markers will be performed. Skin biopsies will be subjected to RNA isolation for RNA sequencing and small-RNA sequencing. A fragment of each skin biopsy will undergo fibroblast isolation and culture for in vitro exposure to glucocorticoids and for the generation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Condition Normal Physiology
Treatment Solu-Medrol (methylprednisolone sodium succinate), Topical methylprenisolone 0.1%, Methylprednisolone sodium succinate(Solu-Medrol), Topical methylprednisolone (Advantan emulsion 0 /1%)
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT02798523
SponsorNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Last Modified on21 October 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Age 18 to 64 years
Willingness to have samples stored for future research
Willingness to undergo genetic testing

Exclusion Criteria

Body Mass Index less than 18 or greater than 35
Difficult peripheral venous access (as determined by study staff at screening)
History of severe allergic reaction to glucocorticoids
History of autoimmune or autoinflammatory disease
Active solid or hematologic malgnancy
History of a skin condition (such as psoriasis, pemphigus, or atopic dermatitis) that could affect the results of the transcriptional analysis of the skin biopsy samples
Diabetes mellitus
Cancer chemotherapy within the past 5 years
Surgery within the past 8 weeks
History of recent (within the past 30 days) infection
A positive test for human immunodeficiency virus, or hepatitis A, B or C virus infection (viral markers hepatitis screen, which includes HBsAg, anti-HCV IgG, anti-HAV IgM)
A positive or indeterminate test for latent tuberculosis (interferon gamma release assay)
History of parasitic, amebic, fungal or mycobacterial infections, or other possible latent infections
Coagulation test (PT and PTT) results outside of normal range
History of a bleeding disorder
Use of a glucocorticoid (including topical or inhaled), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (including aspirin), an anti-epileptic drug, an anticoagulant, a statin, fluoxetine, diltiazem, amiodarone, clarithromycin, ketoconazole, or St. John s wort, within the past 30 days
Vaccination within the past 30 days
Receipt of an immunosuppressant or immunomodulatory drug within the past 30 days
Pregnancy, current or within the past 90 days, or trying to become pregnant during the study
Current breastfeeding
Complete blood count (CBC) and/or acute care panel values are both outside of the NIH Department of Laboratory Medicine normal reference range and deemed clinically significant by the principal investigator
Any Electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormality that is clinically significant
Any condition that, in the investigator s opinion, may put the participant at undue risk or compromise the study s scientific objectives
Participation in a clinical protocol which includes an intervention that, in the opinion of the investigator, may affect the results of the current study
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