P2X receptors are ligand-gated ion channels activated by ATP that are widely expressed in the organism and regulate many physiological functions. We have studied the effect of progesterone (PROG) on native P2X receptors present in rat dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons and on recombinant P2X receptors expressed in HEK293 cells or Xenopus laevis oocytes. The effects of PROG were observed and already maximal during the first coapplication with ATP and did not need any preincubation of the cells with PROG, indicating a fast mechanism of action. In DRG neurons, PROG rapidly and reversibly potentiated submaximal but not saturating plateau-like currents evoked by ATP, but had no effect on the currents activated by alpha,beta-methylene ATP, an agonist of homomeric or heteromeric receptors containing P2X1 or P2X3 subunits. In cells expressing homomeric P2X2 receptors, responses to submaximal ATP, were systematically potentiated by PROG in a dose-dependent manner with a threshold between 1 and 10 nM. PROG had no effect on ATP currents carried by homomeric P2X1, P2X3, and P2X4 receptors or by heteromeric P2X1/5 and P2X2/3 receptors. We conclude that PROG selectively potentiates homomeric P2X2 receptors and, in contrast with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), discriminates between homomeric and heteromeric P2X2-containing receptors. This might have important physiological implications since the P2X2 subunit is the most widely distributed P2X subunit in the organism. Moreover, DHEA and PROG might be useful tools to clarify the distribution and the role of native homo- and heteromeric P2X2 receptors.
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