- Recent studies have indicated significant differences among immune and other tissues in in vivo adrenal steroid receptor activation after a given hormone exposure. Nevertheless, the relationship between in vivo receptor activation and functional measures of the immune response has not been determined. Type I and type II adrenal steroid receptor binding in conjunction with mitogen-induced T-cell proliferative responses were measured in the spleens of Sprague-Dawley rats that were administered various concentrations of dexamethasone (DEX). A linear relationship between type II receptor binding and splenocyte proliferation was found, with decreases in measurable type II receptors (indicating in vivo receptor activation) being highly correlated with decreases in immune function. There was no evidence of spare type II receptors. In vitro studies using the type II receptor antagonist RU 486 confirmed that the inhibitory effect of DEX on splenocyte proliferation was mediated via the type II receptor. These findings provide a foundation for future studies evaluating glucocorticoid effects on immune system function and suggest that evidence of in vivo receptor activation may be critical for predicting when and in which tissues adrenal steroid hormones may be capable of modulating the immune response.