The presence of progesterone response element (PRE) in the 5'-flanking region of the human GnRH receptor (GnRHR) suggests the possible regulation of this gene by progesterone (P). In the present study, we examined the effects of P in transcriptional regulation of human GnRHR gene expression at the pituitary and placenta levels since the GnRHR has been detected in both tissues. By the use of transient transfection assays, a differential regulation of human GnRHR promoter activity by P was observed. P treatment resulted in a decrease in promoter activity in the pituitary alphaT3-1 cells, suggesting a P-mediated inhibitory action. Interestingly, P is found to have a stimulatory role at the placental expression of this gene. Addition of RU486 to, or inhibition of endogenous P production by, the placental JEG-3 cells leads to a decrease in promoter activity, which is reversed by the replacement of P. Further studies have identified a putative PRE, namely human GR-PRE (located between -535 and -521, related to translation start site), that may be responsible for the P action since the mutation of these motifs reversed the P-mediated effects. The binding of PR to this element is confirmed by antibody supershift assays. The physiological effects of P are mediated through two PR isoforms, namely PR-A and PR-B. In the present study, overexpression of human PR-A resulted in a decrease in human promoter activity in both pituitary and placental cells. Interestingly, overexpression of PR-B exhibits a cell-dependent transcriptional activity, whereby it functions as a transcription activator in the placenta but as a transcription repressor in the pituitary. In summary, our results demonstrated a differential usage of PR-A and PR-B in transcriptional regulation of human GnRHR gene expression by P at the pituitary and placenta levels.