Androgen receptor agonist activity of the synthetic progestin, medroxyprogesterone acetate, in human breast cancer cells

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 1999 Aug 20;154(1-2):11-20. doi: 10.1016/s0303-7207(99)00109-4.


Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), which is frequently used as second line hormonal therapy for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, binds with high affinity to the progesterone receptor (PR). However, the androgenic side-effects of MPA suggest that it may also activate androgen receptor (AR) regulated pathways. Treatment of the human breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-453, ZR-75-1 and T47-D with high dose (100 nM) MPA resulted in 26-30% inhibition of cell growth, which was partially reversed by co-treatment with a 10-fold excess of the synthetic antiandrogen, anandron. Scatchard analysis demonstrated specific, high affinity (non-PR) binding of [3H]MPA to cytosols prepared from the PR-/AR+ MDA-MB-453 and PR+/AR+ ZR-75-1, but not the PR-/AR- BT-20 breast cancer cell lines. Competition of [3H]MPA binding to MDA-MB-453 cytosols by equimolar concentrations of androgens (5alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), R1881) and the antiandrogen, anandron was consistent with binding of MPA to the AR. In ZR-75-1 cell cytosol fractions, DHT, R1881 and anandron only partially competed out [3H]MPA binding, suggesting that androgens displace [3H]MPA binding to AR but not to PR. Induction by MPA of AR transactivation was demonstrated in MDA-MB-453 and ZR-75-1 cells, and in the CV-1 cell line transfected with a full-length AR. In these cell lines the increased activity of the androgen responsive reporter gene (MMTV-CAT) by 1 nM MPA was fully (MDA-MB-453, CV-1) or partially (ZR-75-1) inhibited by co-culture with 1 microM anandron. These findings indicate that MPA is an AR agonist and suggest that the in vivo effects of MPA in breast cancer patients may in part be mediated by the AR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Androgens*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Imidazolidines*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / metabolism*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology
  • Progestins / metabolism
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Tritium
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Androgens
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Imidazoles
  • Imidazolidines
  • Progestins
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Tritium
  • nilutamide
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate