The progestational and androgenic properties of medroxyprogesterone acetate: gene regulatory overlap with dihydrotestosterone in breast cancer cells

Breast Cancer Res. 2005;7(6):R1036-50. doi: 10.1186/bcr1340. Epub 2005 Nov 2.


Introduction: Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), the major progestin used for oral contraception and hormone replacement therapy, has been implicated in increased breast cancer risk. Is this risk due to its progestational or androgenic properties? To address this, we assessed the transcriptional effects of MPA as compared with those of progesterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in human breast cancer cells.

Method: A new progesterone receptor-negative, androgen receptor-positive human breast cancer cell line, designated Y-AR, was engineered and characterized. Transcription assays using a synthetic promoter/reporter construct, as well as endogenous gene expression profiling comparing progesterone, MPA and DHT, were performed in cells either lacking or containing progesterone receptor and/or androgen receptor.

Results: In progesterone receptor-positive cells, MPA was found to be an effective progestin through both progesterone receptor isoforms in transient transcription assays. Interestingly, DHT signaled through progesterone receptor type B. Expression profiling of endogenous progesterone receptor-regulated genes comparing progesterone and MPA suggested that although MPA may be a somewhat more potent progestin than progesterone, it is qualitatively similar to progesterone. To address effects of MPA through androgen receptor, expression profiling was performed comparing progesterone, MPA and DHT using Y-AR cells. These studies showed extensive gene regulatory overlap between DHT and MPA through androgen receptor and none with progesterone. Interestingly, there was no difference between pharmacological MPA and physiological MPA, suggesting that high-dose therapeutic MPA may be superfluous.

Conclusion: Our comparison of the gene regulatory profiles of MPA and progesterone suggests that, for physiologic hormone replacement therapy, the actions of MPA do not mimic those of endogenous progesterone alone. Clinically, the complex pharmacology of MPA not only influences its side-effect profile; but it is also possible that the increased breast cancer risk and/or the therapeutic efficacy of MPA in cancer treatment is in part mediated by androgen receptor.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / adverse effects*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Progesterone / physiology
  • Receptors, Androgen / drug effects
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology
  • Receptors, Progesterone / drug effects
  • Receptors, Progesterone / physiology
  • Testosterone / analogs & derivatives
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • boldenone
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate