Reciprocal fine-tuning of progesterone and prolactin-regulated gene expression in breast cancer cells

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2020 Jul 1:511:110859. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2020.110859. Epub 2020 May 11.


Progesterone and prolactin are two key hormones involved in development and remodeling of the mammary gland. As such, both hormones have been linked to breast cancer. Despite the overlap between biological processes ascribed to these two hormones, little is known about how co-expression of both hormones affects their individual actions. Progesterone and prolactin exert many of their effects on the mammary gland through activation of gene expression, either directly (progesterone, binding to the progesterone receptor [PR]) or indirectly (multiple transcription factors being activated downstream of prolactin, most notably STAT5). Using RNA-seq in T47D breast cancer cells, we characterized the gene expression programs regulated by progestin and prolactin, either alone or in combination. We found significant crosstalk and fine-tuning between the transcriptional programs executed by each hormone independently and in combination. We divided and characterized the transcriptional programs into four broad categories. All crosstalk/fine-tuning shown to be modulated by progesterone was dependent upon the expression of PR. Moreover, PR was recruited to enhancer regions of all regulated genes. Interestingly, despite the canonical role for STAT5 in transducing prolactin-signaling in the normal and lactating mammary gland, very few of the prolactin-regulated transcriptional programs fine-tuned by progesterone in this breast cancer cell line model system were in fact dependent upon STAT5. Cumulatively, these data suggest that the interplay of progesterone and prolactin in breast cancer impacts gene expression in a more complex and nuanced manner than previously thought, and likely through different transcriptional regulators than those observed in the normal mammary gland. Studying gene regulation when both hormones are present is most clinically relevant, particularly in the context of breast cancer.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Gene expression; Progesterone receptor; Prolactin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Gene Ontology
  • Humans
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Prolactin / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • STAT5 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • STAT5 Transcription Factor
  • Progesterone
  • Prolactin