Intracellular Hormone Receptors


Illustration shows a hormone crossing the cellular membrane and attaching to the N R slash H S P complex. The complex dissociates, releasing the heat shock protein and a N R slash hormone complex. The complex dimerizes, enters the nucleus, and attaches to an H R E element on D N A, triggering transcription of certain genes.
An intracellular nuclear receptor (NR) is located in the cytoplasm bound to a heat shock protein (HSP). Upon hormone binding, the receptor dissociates from the heat shock protein and translocates to the nucleus. In the nucleus, the hormone-receptor complex binds to a DNA sequence called a hormone response element (HRE), which triggers gene transcription and translation. The corresponding protein product can then mediate changes in cell function. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

Lipid-derived (soluble) hormones such as steroid hormones diffuse across the membranes of the endocrine cell. Once outside the cell, they bind to transport proteins that keep them soluble in the bloodstream. At the target cell, the hormones are released from the carrier protein and diffuse across the lipid bilayer of the plasma membrane of cells. The steroid hormones pass through the plasma membrane of a target cell and adhere to intracellular receptors residing in the cytoplasm or in the nucleus. The cell signaling pathways induced by the steroid hormones regulate specific genes on the cell’s DNA. The hormones and receptor complex act as transcription regulators by increasing or decreasing the synthesis of mRNA molecules of specific genes. This, in turn, determines the amount of corresponding protein that is synthesized by altering gene expression. This protein can be used either to change the structure of the cell or to produce enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions. In this way, the steroid hormone regulates specific cell processes.

Other lipid-soluble hormones that are not steroid hormones, such as vitamin D and thyroxine, have receptors located in the nucleus. While thyroxine is mostly hydrophobic, its passage across the membrane is dependent on transporter protein. Vitamin D diffuses across both the plasma membrane and the nuclear envelope. Once in the cell, both hormones bind to receptors in the nucleus. The hormone-receptor complex stimulates transcription of specific genes.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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