Oral and injectable systemic corticosterois are steroid hormones prescribed to decrease inflammation in diseases and conditions such as arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, for example), ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, asthma, bronchitis, some skin rashes, and allergic or inflammatory conditions that involve the nose and eyes. Examples of systemic corticosteroids include hydrocortisone (Cortef), cortisone, prednisone (Prednisone Intensol), prednisolone (Orapred, Prelone), and methylprednisolone (Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Solu-Medrol). Some of the side effects of systemic corticosteroids are swelling of the legs, hypertension, headache, easy bruising, facial hair growth, diabetes, cataracts, and puffiness of the face.
Lewis Sarett of Merck & Co. was the first to synthesize cortisone, using a 36-step process that started with deoxycholic acid, which was extracted from ox bile .  The low efficiency of converting deoxycholic acid into cortisone led to a cost of US $200 per gram. Russell Marker , at Syntex , discovered a much cheaper and more convenient starting material, diosgenin from wild Mexican yams . His conversion of diosgenin into progesterone by a four-step process now known as Marker degradation was an important step in mass production of all steroidal hormones, including cortisone and chemicals used in hormonal contraception .  In 1952, . Peterson and . Murray of Upjohn developed a process that used Rhizopus mold to oxidize progesterone into a compound that was readily converted to cortisone.  The ability to cheaply synthesize large quantities of cortisone from the diosgenin in yams resulted in a rapid drop in price to US $6 per gram, falling to $ per gram by 1980. Percy Julian's research also aided progress in the field.  The exact nature of cortisone's anti-inflammatory action remained a mystery for years after, however, until the leukocyte adhesion cascade and the role of phospholipase A2 in the production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes was fully understood in the early 1980s.
Reduced responsiveness to the anti-inflammatory effects of corticosteroids is a major barrier to effective management of asthma in smokers and patients with severe asthma and in the majority of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The molecular mechanisms leading to steroid resistance are now better understood, and this has identified new targets for therapy. In patients with severe asthma, several molecular mechanisms have been identified that might account for reduced steroid responsiveness, including reduced nuclear translocation of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) α after binding corticosteroids. This might be due to modification of the GR by means of phosphorylation as a result of activation of several kinases (p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase α, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase γ, and c-Jun N-terminal kinase 1), which in turn might be due to reduced activity and expression of phosphatases, such as mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase 1 and protein phosphatase A2. Other mechanisms proposed include increased expression of GRβ, which competes with and thus inhibits activated GRα; increased secretion of macrophage migration inhibitory factor; competition with the transcription factor activator protein 1; and reduced expression of histone deacetylase (HDAC) 2. HDAC2 appears to mediate the action of steroids to switch off activated inflammatory genes, but in patients with COPD, patients with severe asthma, and smokers with asthma, HDAC2 activity and expression are reduced by oxidative stress through activation of phosphoinositide 3-kinase δ. Strategies for managing steroid resistance include alternative anti-inflammatory drugs, but a novel approach is to reverse steroid resistance by increasing HDAC2 expression, which can be achieved with theophylline and phosphoinositide 3-kinase δ inhibitors. Long-acting β2-agonists can also increase steroid responsiveness by reversing GRα phosphorylation. Identifying the molecular mechanisms of steroid resistance in asthmatic patients and patients with COPD can thus lead to more effective anti-inflammatory treatments.