Progesterone involvement in breast development and tumorigenesis—as revealed by progesterone receptor "knockout" and "knockin" mouse models

Preeti M Ismail, Paula Amato, Selma M Soyal, Francesco J DeMayo, Orla M Conneely, Bert W O'Malley, John P Lydon
Steroids 2003, 68 (10): 779-87
In light of recent clinical trials, the debate concerning the risks and benefits of progestin-based postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has reached a renewed level of urgency. Irrespective of the position taken, the consensus is that more basic research needs to be performed to address progesterone's fundamental role in mammary development and tumorigenesis. Towards this end, the progesterone receptor knockout (PRKO) mouse demonstrated that progesterone is essential for pregnancy-associated mammary gland ductal side-branching and alveologenesis and that these morphological changes are dependent on progesterone-induced mammary epithelial proliferation. Importantly, the PRKO mouse showed that the progesterone-proliferative signal significantly contributes to mammary tumor susceptibility in an established mammary tumor model. Insight into the cellular mechanism(s) by which progesterone affects mammary morphogenesis has been disclosed by a new PR-LacZ knockin mouse, which revealed that PR's spatial expression pattern undergoes precise choreographed distributional changes that precede key stages in postnatal mammary development. In the case of early pregnancy, the segregation of cells undergoing progesterone-induced proliferation from those that express PR implicates a paracrine mode of action for progesterone-induced mammary epithelial proliferation, whereas the preparturient decline of PR expression underscores the need to remove this signal for full functional differentiation of this tissue. Our findings support the proposal that the mammary gland's normal response to the progesterone-signal is dependent upon specific spatial organizational patterns of PR expression and that derailment in these cellular processes may contribute to abnormal mammary development, including cancer. This review concludes by emphasizing the need to identify the downstream molecular targets that mediate progesterone's effects in this tissue. Identification of such targets will not only enhance our mechanistic understanding of progesterone's role in mammary development and cancer, but may also facilitate the formulation of new design strategies in breast cancer diagnosis and/or treatment.

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