The antitumor potency of progesterone antagonists is due to their differentiation potential

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1992 Sep;43(1-3):203-10. doi: 10.1016/0960-0760(92)90209-2.


A new therapy for the progesterone receptor positive mammary carcinoma may be the treatment with progesterone antagonists. This new class of antihormones causes a strong inhibition of tumor growth comparable to the potency of ovariectomy in a panel of experimental mammary carcinomas. The mechanisms of the strong tumor-inhibiting action of progesterone antagonists on experimental mammary carcinomas mainly depends on a progesterone receptor mediated process leading to induction of terminal differentiation and a blockade of the cell cycle. To further characterize the antitumor mechanism of progesterone antagonists we analyzed the effects of Onapristone and ZK 112.993 on DMBA- and MNU-mammary tumors of the rat and MXT-tumors of the mouse after different therapy intervals. These hormone-dependent mammary tumors normally display intraductal growth in papillary, cribiform or solid formation, whereas after treatment periods of 2-6 weeks with progesterone antagonists they displayed dysplastic ductal and acinous formations, usually filled with secretory material. Whereas tumor size, mitotic index, and the grade of tumor malignancy decreased distinctly, the volume fraction of glandular structures in the tumors as well as the appearance of apoptosis increased 3-fold compared to the controls. In addition, the mammary glands of progesterone antagonist treated animals showed the morphological features of differentiation with the appearance of secretory activity. Interestingly, the staining pattern of some of the lectins used, especially UEA 1 binding pattern, fits to the concept of differentiation since recent studies revealed a higher degree of fucosylation only in benign lesions of human breast cancers. Therefore, these data underline the concept of a differentiation potential of progesterone antagonists on progesterone receptor positive mammary carcinomas.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Gonanes / therapeutic use*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mifepristone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Mifepristone / therapeutic use
  • Progesterone / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Rats


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Gonanes
  • ZK 112993
  • Mifepristone
  • Progesterone
  • onapristone