Uterine leiomyomas develop in reproductive-age women with high frequency and are dependent on the production of ovarian hormones. While it is generally accepted that these tumors are estrogen (E(2))-responsive, the role of progesterone (P(4)) in modulating tumor growth is less clear. In the present study, an in vivo/in vitro rat model was used to characterize progesterone receptor (PR) isoform expression in uterine leiomyoma and investigate PR signaling using progestins and antiprogestins in the leiomyoma-derived cell line ELT-3. PR-A was the predominant isoform expressed in normal myometrium, leiomyomas and ELT3 cells. In the normal myometrium, PR-A and PR-B levels varied during the estrous cycle with low ratios of PR-A relative to PR-B (PR-A/PR-B) coinciding with times of cell proliferation. Although PR ligands had no effect on basal levels of uterine leiomyoma cell proliferation in vitro, both progestins and antiprogestins inhibited E(2)-stimulated cell proliferation. In addition, E(2)-stimulated transactivation of an estrogen-response-element reporter gene as well as E(2)-induced upregulation of the PR were also inhibited by PR ligands. These data indicate that PR ligands can transdominantly suppress estrogen receptor signaling and stimulation of uterine leiomyoma cell growth.