The guinea pig exhibits resistance to glucocorticoids in vivo which results from the guinea pig glucocorticoid receptor (GR) having a lower affinity for cortisol than the human GR. Cloning of the guinea pig GR has revealed that the amino acid sequence of the ligand-binding domain (LBD) differs from the human GR at 24 residues. The present study confirms that the decreased sensitivity and binding affinity of the guinea pig GR are conferred in vitro by the LBD. Further, the substitutions in the LBD do not confer altered relative steroid sensitivity or selectivity compared with the human GR. The altered sensitivity and binding of dexamethasone are confined to the first third of the LBD, which contains 5 nonconservative substitutions in a region that is otherwise highly conserved across several species of GR. These residues, either alone or in combination, were targeted for site-directed mutagenesis in both the human and guinea pig LBD. Trans-activation studies with these mutant GR failed to exclusively implicate or exclude any of the residues in the observed resistance. Rather, the changes, with 1 exception, caused a decrease in sensitivity, suggesting that critical intramolecular interactions involving at least 4 of these residues determine the correct conformation of this region. Recent molecular modeling of the GR LBD structure suggests that although the above region is not part of the core ligand-binding pocket, it is required to maintain the conformation of the binding pocket.