Progestogens and membrane-initiated effects on the proliferation of human breast cancer cells

Climacteric. 2012 Oct;15(5):467-72. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2011.648232. Epub 2012 Feb 15.


Objectives: Evidence is accumulating that progestogens may play a crucial role in the development of breast cancer under contraception and hormone therapy in reproductive and menopausal women. Progesterone receptor membrane component 1 (PGRMC1) expressed in breast cancer may be important in tumorigenesis and thus may increase breast cancer risk. The aim of this project was to investigate the influence of progesterone and nine synthetic progestins on MCF-7 breast cancer cells overexpressing PGRMC1.

Methods: MCF-7 cells were stably transfected with PGRMC1 expression plasmid (WT-12). To test the effects of progestogerone (P) and the synthetic progestins chlormadinone acetate (CMA), desogestrel (DSG), drospirenone (DRSP), dydrogesterone (DYD), levonorgestrel (LNG), medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), nomegestrol (NOM) and norethisterone (NET) on cell proliferation, MCF-7 and WT-12 cells were stimulated with different concentrations (0.01-1 µmol/l).

Results: In MCF-7 cells, DRSP, DSG, DYD, LNG and NET increased the proliferation at 1 µmol/l, the effect being highest for NET with about 20%. In WT-12 cells, the same progestins, but additionally MPA, showed a significant increase, which was much higher (30-245%) than in MCF-7 cells. Here again, NET showed the highest proliferative effect. No effect was found for CMA, NOM and P.

Conclusion: Some synthetic progestins trigger a proliferative response of PGRMC1-overexpressed MCF-7 cancer cells. The effect of progestogens on breast cancer tumorigenesis may clearly depend on the specific pharmacology of the various synthetic progestins.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Norethindrone / pharmacology
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Progesterone Congeners / pharmacology
  • Progestins / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / genetics
  • Receptors, Progesterone / physiology
  • Transfection


  • Membrane Proteins
  • PGRMC1 protein, human
  • Progesterone Congeners
  • Progestins
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Progesterone
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate
  • Norethindrone