Pathways Involving Intracellular Hormone Receptors

A steroid hormone directly initiates the production of proteins within a target cell. Steroid hormones easily diffuse through the cell membrane. The hormone binds to its receptor in the cytosol, forming a receptor–hormone complex. The receptor–hormone complex then enters the nucleus and binds to the target gene on the DNA. Transcription of the gene creates a messenger RNA that is translated into the desired protein within the cytoplasm.

Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Intracellular hormone receptors are located inside the cell. Hormones that bind to this type of receptor must be able to cross the cell membrane. Steroid hormones are derived from cholesterol and therefore can readily diffuse through the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane to reach the intracellular receptor. Thyroid hormones, which contain benzene rings studded with iodine, are also lipid-soluble and can enter the cell.

The location of steroid and thyroid hormone binding differs slightly: a steroid hormone may bind to its receptor within the cytosol or within the nucleus. In either case, this binding generates a hormone-receptor complex that moves toward the chromatin in the cell nucleus and binds to a particular segment of the cell’s DNA. In contrast, thyroid hormones bind to receptors already bound to DNA. For both steroid and thyroid hormones, binding of the hormone-receptor complex with DNA triggers transcription of a target gene to mRNA, which moves to the cytosol and directs protein synthesis by ribosomes.


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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