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Katherine A Leehy, Tarah M Regan Anderson, Andrea R Daniel, Carol A Lange and Julie H Ostrander

Steroid hormone receptors (SRs) are heavily posttranslationally modified by the reversible addition of a variety of molecular moieties, including phosphorylation, acetylation, methylation, SUMOylation, and ubiquitination. These rapid and dynamic modifications may be combinatorial and interact (i.e. may be sequential, complement, or oppose each other), creating a vast array of uniquely modified receptor subspecies that allow for diverse receptor behaviors that enable highly sensitive and context-dependent hormone action. For example, in response to hormone or growth factor membrane-initiated signaling events, posttranslational modifications (PTMs) to SRs alter protein–protein interactions that govern the complex process of promoter or gene-set selection coupled to transcriptional repression or activation. Unique phosphorylation events allow SRs to associate or disassociate with specific cofactors that may include pioneer factors and other tethering partners, which specify the resulting transcriptome and ultimately change cell fate. The impact of PTMs on SR action is particularly profound in the context of breast tumorigenesis, in which frequent alterations in growth factor-initiated signaling pathways occur early and act as drivers of breast cancer progression toward endocrine resistance. In this article, with primary focus on breast cancer relevance, we review the mechanisms by which PTMs, including reversible phosphorylation events, regulate the closely related SRs, glucocorticoid receptor and progesterone receptor, allowing for precise biological responses to ever-changing hormonal stimuli.

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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, 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.

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Caroline H Diep, Andrea R Daniel, Laura J Mauro, Todd P Knutson and Carol A Lange

Progesterone and progesterone receptors (PRs) are essential for the development and cyclical regulation of hormone-responsive tissues including the breast and reproductive tract. Altered functions of PR isoforms contribute to the pathogenesis of tumors that arise in these tissues. In the breast, progesterone acts in concert with estrogen to promote proliferative and pro-survival gene programs. In sharp contrast, progesterone inhibits estrogen-driven growth in the uterus and protects the ovary from neoplastic transformation. Progesterone-dependent actions and associated biology in diverse tissues and tumors are mediated by two PR isoforms, PR-A and PR-B. These isoforms are subject to altered transcriptional activity or expression levels, differential crosstalk with growth factor signaling pathways, and distinct post-translational modifications and cofactor-binding partners. Herein, we summarize and discuss the recent literature focused on progesterone and PR isoform-specific actions in breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers. Understanding the complexity of context-dependent PR actions in these tissues is critical to developing new models that will allow us to advance our knowledge base with the goal of revealing novel and efficacious therapeutic regimens for these hormone-responsive diseases.