Progesterone receptor and the mechanism of action of progesterone antagonists

Dean P. Edwards, Magda Altmann, Angelo DeMarzo, Yixian Zhang, Nancy L. Weigel, Candace A. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Currently available progesterone antagonists have been suggested to fall into two categories based on differences in how they interact with and inactivate the progesterone receptor (PR). The anti-progestin ZK98299 (Type I) impairs PR association with DNA, while Type II compounds (RU486, ZK112993, ZK98734) promote PR binding to DNA. Type II agents, therefore, appear to inhibit receptor activity at a step downstream of DNA binding, presumably failing to induce conformational changes in PR structure required for enhancement of transcription. This paper discusses both published and unpublished data supporting the concept of two types of progestin antagonists. Using PR-mediated induction of reporter genes in breast cancer cells as an assay for biological response, both types of anti-progestins, after correction for difference in steroid binding affinity, inhibit progestin induction substoichiometrically. However, Type II anti-progestins are more potent, inhibiting at lower ratios of antagonist to agonist than ZK98299. This suggests that in addition to behaving by classical competitive mechanisms these compounds (in particular Type II) may exhibit additional activity as transrepressors of PR in the same cell bound to hormone agonist. Transrepression may occur by the combined mechanisms of heterodimerization and competition for binding to DNA. In support of this, mixed ligand dimers form readily in solution between a PR subunit bound to agonist and another bound to either type of anti-progestin, whereas these mixed ligand dimers bind poorly, if at all, to specific progesterone response elements (PREs) in vitro. Additionally, when added as a single ligand, Type II agents increase PR dimerization in solution and PR affinity for PREs as compared with single ligand dimers formed by progestin agonist. This contrasts with ZK98299, when given as a single ligand, which reduces PR affinity for PREs without disrupting solution dimerization. Thus the higher affinity of PR for PREs may account for the greater biological potency of Type II compounds as compared with ZK98299. As a further distinction between types of antiprogestins, ZK98299 minimally stimulates phosphorylation of PR whereas RU486 increases site-specific phosphorylation of PR in a manner indistinguishable from that of hormone agonist. Additionally, ZK98299 is not susceptible in vivo to functional switching to a partial agonist by cross talk with cAMP signal transduction pathways, as occurs with Type II compounds. Thus, ZK98299 under certain conditions may be a more pure antagonist than Type II compounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)449-458
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number1-6
StatePublished - Jun 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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