It is almost 20 years since the first steroid receptor cDNAs were cloned, a development that led to the concept of a superfamily of ligand-activated transcription factors: the nuclear receptors. Natural ligands for nuclear receptors are generally lipophilic in nature and include steroid hormones, bile acids, fatty acids, thyroid hormones, certain vitamins and prostaglandins. Nuclear receptors act principally to directly control patterns of gene expression and play vital roles during development and in the regulation of metabolic and reproductive functions in the adult organism. Since the original cloning experiments, considerable progress has been made in our understanding of the structure, mechanisms of action and biology of this important family of proteins.

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