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Open access

Miguel Beato, Roni H G Wright, and François Le Dily

Gene regulation by steroid hormones has been at the forefront in elucidating the intricacies of transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes ever since the discovery by Karlson and Clever that the insect steroid hormone ecdysone induces chromatin puffs in giant chromosomes. After the successful cloning of the hormone receptors toward the end of the past century, detailed mechanistic insight emerged in some model systems, in particular the MMTV provirus. With the arrival of next generation DNA sequencing and the omics techniques, we have gained even further insight into the global cellular response to steroid hormones that in the past decades also extended to the function of the 3D genome topology. More recently, advances in high resolution microcopy, single cell genomics and the new vision of liquid-liquid phase transitions in the context of nuclear space bring us closer than ever to unravelling the logic of gene regulation and its complex integration of global cellular signaling networks. Using the function of progesterone and its cellular receptor in breast cancer cells, we will briefly summarize the history and describe the present extent of our knowledge on how regulatory proteins deal with the chromatin structure to gain access to DNA sequences and interpret the genomic instructions that enable cells to respond selectively to external signals by reshaping their gene regulatory networks.

Free access

Francesco J DeMayo and John P Lydon

Progesterone’s ability to maintain pregnancy in eutherian mammals highlighted this steroid as the ‘hormone of pregnancy’. It was the unique ‘pro-gestational’ bioactivity of progesterone that enabled eventual purification of this ovarian steroid to crystalline form by Willard Myron Allen in the early 1930s. While a functional connection between normal progesterone responses (’progestational proliferation’) of the uterus with the maintenance of pregnancy was quickly appreciated, an understanding of progesterone’s involvement in the early stages of pregnancy establishment was comparatively less well understood. With the aforementioned as historical backdrop, this review focuses on a selection of key advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which progesterone, through its nuclear receptor (the progesterone receptor), drives the development of endometrial receptivity, a transient uterine state that allows for embryo implantation and the establishment of pregnancy. Highlighted in this review are the significant contributions of advanced mouse engineering and genome-wide transcriptomic and cistromic analytics which reveal the pivotal molecular mediators and modifiers that are essential to progesterone-dependent endometrial receptivity and decidualization. With a clearer understanding of the molecular landscape that underpins uterine responsiveness to progesterone during the periimplantation period, we predict that common gynecologic morbidities due to abnormal progesterone responsiveness will be more effectively diagnosed and/or treated in the future.

Open access

Simak Ali, Kirsty Balachandran, and Bert O’Malley

Free access

Kathryn B Horwitz and Carol A Sartorius

Progesterone and progesterone receptors (PR) have a storied albeit controversial history in breast cancers. As endocrine therapies for breast cancer progressed through the twentieth century from oophorectomy to antiestrogens, it was recognized in the 1970s that the presence of estrogen receptors (ER) alone could not efficiently predict treatment responses. PR, an estrogen regulated protein, became the first prognostic and predictive marker of response to endocrine therapies. It remains today as the gold standard for predicting the existence of functional, targetable ER in breast malignancies. PRs were subsequently identified as highly structured transcription factors that regulate diverse physiological processes in breast cancer cells. In the early 2000s, the somewhat surprising finding that prolonged use of synthetic progestin-containing menopausal hormone therapies was associated with increased breast cancer incidence raised new questions about the role of PR in ‘tumorigenesis’. Most recently, PR have been linked to expansion of cancer stem cells that are postulated to be the principal cells reactivated in occult or dormant disease. Other studies establish PR as dominant modulators of ER activity. Together, these findings mark PR as bona fide targets for progestin or antiprogestin therapies, yet their diverse actions have confounded that use. Here we summarize the early history of PR in breast cancer; debunk the theory that progesterone causes cancer; discuss recent discoveries that PR regulate cell heterogeneity; attempt to unify theories describing PR as either good or bad actors in tumors; and discuss emerging areas of research that may help explain this enigmatic hormone and receptor.

Free access

Cathrin Brisken and Valentina Scabia

Progesterone is considered as the pregnancy hormone and acts on many different target tissues. Progesterone receptor (PR) signaling is important for normal development and the physiologic function of the breast and impinges on breast carcinogenesis. Both systemically and locally, in the breast epithelium, there are multiple layers of complexity to progesterone action, many of which have been revealed through experiments in mice. The hormone acts via its receptor expressed in a subset of cells, the sensor cells, in the breast epithelium with different signaling outcomes in individual cells eliciting distinct cell-intrinsic and paracrine signaling involving different mediators for different intercellular interactions. PR expression itself is developmentally regulated and the biological outcome of PR signaling depends on the developmental stage of the mammary gland and the endocrine context. During both puberty and adulthood PR activates stem and progenitor cells through Wnt4-driven activation of the myoepithelium with downstream Adamts18-induced changes in extracellualr matrix (ECM) / basal membrane (BM). During estrous cycling and pregnancy, the hormone drives a major cell expansion through Rankl. At all stages, PR signaling is closely tied to estrogen receptor α (ER) signaling. As the PR itself is a target gene of ER, the complex interactions are experimentally difficult to dissect and still poorly understood. Ex vivo models of the human breast and studies on biopsy samples show that major signaling axes are conserved across species. New intraductal xenograft models hold promise to provide a better understanding of PR signaling in the normal breast epithelium and in breast cancer development in the near future.

Open access

H O D Critchley and R R Chodankar

Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) is a chronic, debilitating and common condition affecting one in four women of reproductive age. Current treatments (conservative, medical and surgical) may be unsuitable, poorly tolerated or may result in loss of fertility. Selective progesterone receptor modulators (SPRMs) influence progesterone-regulated pathways, a hormone critical to female reproductive health and disease; therefore, SPRMs hold great potential in fulfilling an unmet need in managing gynaecological disorders. SPRMs in current clinical use include RU486 (mifepristone), which is licensed for pregnancy interruption, and CDB-2914 (ulipristal acetate), licensed for managing AUB in women with leiomyomas and in a higher dose as an emergency contraceptive. In this article, we explore the clinical journey of SPRMs and the need for further interrogation of this class of drugs with the ultimate goal of improving women’s quality of life.

Free access

Amy R Dwyer, Thu H Truong, Julie H Ostrander, and Carol A Lange

Steroid hormone receptors (SRs) are classically defined as ligand-activated transcription factors that function as master regulators of gene programs important for a wide range of processes governing adult physiology, development, and cell or tissue homeostasis. A second function of SRs includes the ability to activate cytoplasmic signaling pathways. Estrogen (ER), androgen (AR), and progesterone (PR) receptors bind directly to membrane-associated signaling molecules including mitogenic protein kinases (i.e. c-SRC and AKT), G-proteins, and ion channels to mediate context-dependent actions via rapid activation of downstream signaling pathways. In addition to making direct contact with diverse signaling molecules, SRs are further fully integrated with signaling pathways by virtue of their N-terminal phosphorylation sites that act as regulatory hot-spots capable of sensing the signaling milieu. In particular, ER, AR, PR, and closely related glucocorticoid receptors (GR) share the property of accepting (i.e. sensing) ligand-independent phosphorylation events by proline-directed kinases in the MAPK and CDK families. These signaling inputs act as a ‘second ligand’ that dramatically impacts cell fate. In the face of drugs that reliably target SR ligand-binding domains to block uncontrolled cancer growth, ligand-independent post-translational modifications guide changes in cell fate that confer increased survival, EMT, migration/invasion, stemness properties, and therapy resistance of non-proliferating SR+ cancer cell subpopulations. The focus of this review is on MAPK pathways in the regulation of SR+ cancer cell fate. MAPK-dependent phosphorylation of PR (Ser294) and GR (Ser134) will primarily be discussed in light of the need to target changes in breast cancer cell fate as part of modernized combination therapies.

Restricted access

Lekha Jain, Tayaza Fadason, William Schierding, Mark H Vickers, Justin M O’Sullivan, and Jo K Perry

Growth hormone (GH) is a peptide hormone predominantly produced by the anterior pituitary and is essential for normal growth and metabolism. The GH locus contains five evolutionarily related genes under the control of an upstream locus control region that coordinates tissue-specific expression of these genes. Compromised GH signalling and genetic variation in these genes has been implicated in various disorders including cancer. We hypothesised that regulatory regions within the GH locus coordinate expression of a gene network that extends the impact of the GH locus control region. We used the CoDeS3D algorithm to analyse 529 common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across the GH locus. This algorithm identifies colocalised Hi-C and eQTL associations to determine which SNPs are associated with a change in gene expression at loci that physically interact within the nucleus. One hundred and eighty-one common SNPs were identified that interacted with 292 eGenes across 48 different tissues. One hundred and forty-five eGenes were regulated in trans. eGenes were found to be enriched in GH/GHR-related cellular signalling pathways including MAPK, PI3K-AKT-mTOR, ERBB and insulin signalling, suggesting that these pathways may be co-regulated with GH signalling. Enrichment was also observed in the Wnt and Hippo signalling pathways and in pathways associated with hepatocellular, colorectal, breast and non-small cell lung carcinoma. Thirty-three eQTL SNPs identified in our study were found to be of regulatory importance in a genome-wide Survey of Regulatory Elements reporter screen. Our data suggest that the GH locus functions as a complex regulatory region that coordinates expression of numerous genes in cis and trans, many of which may be involved in modulating GH function in normal and disease states.

Free access

Andrea Hanel, Henna-Riikka Malmberg, and Carsten Carlberg

Molecular endocrinology of vitamin D is based on the activation of the transcription factor vitamin D receptor (VDR) by the vitamin D metabolite 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. This nuclear vitamin D-sensing process causes epigenome-wide effects, such as changes in chromatin accessibility as well as in the contact of VDR and its supporting pioneer factors with thousands of genomic binding sites, referred to as vitamin D response elements. VDR binding enhancer regions loop to transcription start sites of hundreds of vitamin D target genes resulting in changes of their expression. Thus, vitamin D signaling is based on epigenome- and transcriptome-wide shifts in VDR-expressing tissues. Monocytes are the most responsive cell type of the immune system and serve as a paradigm for uncovering the chromatin model of vitamin D signaling. In this review, an alternative approach for selecting vitamin D target genes is presented, which are most relevant for understanding the impact of vitamin D endocrinology on innate immunity. Different scenarios of the regulation of primary upregulated vitamin D target genes are presented, in which vitamin D-driven super-enhancers comprise a cluster of persistent (constant) and/or inducible (transient) VDR-binding sites. In conclusion, the spatio-temporal VDR binding in the context of chromatin is most critical for the regulation of vitamin D target genes.