Progesterone-dependent Regulation of Female Reproductive Activity by Two Distinct Progesterone Receptor Isoforms

Steroids. 2003 Nov;68(10-13):771-8. doi: 10.1016/s0039-128x(03)00126-0.


The steroid hormone, progesterone, is a central coordinator of all aspects of female reproductive activity. The physiological effects of progesterone are mediated by interaction of the hormone with specific intracellular progesterone receptors (PRs) that are expressed from a single gene as two protein isoforms and that are members of the nuclear receptor superfamily of transcription factors. Analysis of the structural and functional relationships of each isoform using in vitro systems has demonstrated that the PR-A and PR-B proteins have different transcription activation properties when liganded to progesterone. More recently, selective ablation of the PR-A and PR-B proteins in mice had facilitated examination of the contribution of the individual PR isoforms to the pleiotropic reproductive activities of progesterone. Analysis of the phenotypic consequences of these mutations on female reproductive function has provided proof of concept that the distinct transcriptional responses to PR-A and PR-B observed in cell-based transactivation assays are reflected in a distinct tissue-selective contribution of the individual isoforms to the reproductive activities of progesterone. In PR-A knock-out mice, in which the expression of the PR-A isoform is selectively ablated (PRAKO), the PR-B isoform functions in a tissue-specific manner to mediate a subset of the reproductive functions of PRs. Ablation of PR-A does not affect response of the mammary gland or thymus to progesterone but results in severe abnormalities in ovarian and uterine function leading to female infertility. More recent studies using PR-B knock-out (PRBKO) mice have shown that ablation of PR-B does not affect either ovarian, uterine or thymic responses to progesterone but results in reduced mammary ductal morphogenesis and alveologenesis during pregnancy. Thus, PR-A is both necessary and sufficient to elicit the progesterone-dependent reproductive responses necessary for female fertility, while the PR-B isoform is required to elicit normal proliferative and differentiative responses of the mammary gland to progesterone. This review will summarize our current understanding of the selective contribution of the two PR isoforms to progesterone action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / embryology
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Progesterone / chemistry*
  • Reproduction*
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism
  • Uterus / embryology
  • Uterus / metabolism


  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • progesterone receptor A
  • progesterone receptor B
  • Progesterone