Endometriosis and nuclear receptors

Bahar D. Yilmaz, Serdar E. Bulun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Endometriosis is recognized as a steroid-dependent disorder; however, the precise roles of nuclear receptors (NRs) in steroid responsiveness and other signaling pathways are not well understood. OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: Over the past several years, a number of paradigm-shifting breakthroughs have occurred in the area of NRs in endometriosis. We review and clarify new information regarding the mechanisms responsible for: (i) excessive estrogen biosynthesis, (ii) estrogen-dependent inflammation, (iii) defective differentiation due to progesterone resistance and (iv) enhanced survival due to deficient retinoid production and action in endometriosis. We emphasize the roles of the relevant NRs critical for these pathological processes in endometriosis. SEARCH METHODS: We conducted a comprehensive search using PubMed for human, animal and cellular studies published until 2018 in the following areas: Endometriosis; the steroid and orphan NRs, estrogen receptors alpha (ESR1) and beta (ESR2), progesterone receptor (PGR), steroidogenic factor-1 (NR5A1) and chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter-transcription factor II (NR2F2); and retinoids. OUTCOMES: Four distinct abnormalities in the intracavitary endometrium and extra-uterine endometriotic tissue underlie endometriosis progression: Dysregulated differentiation of endometrial mesenchymal cells, abnormal epigenetic marks, inflammation activated by excess estrogen and the development of progesterone resistance. Endometriotic stromal cells compose the bulk of the lesions and demonstrate widespread epigenetic abnormalities. Endometriotic stromal cells also display a wide range of abnormal NR expression. The orphan NRs NR5A1 and NR2F2 compete to regulate steroid-synthesizing genes in endometriotic stromal cells; NR5A1 dominance gives rise to excessive estrogen formation. Endometriotic stromal cells show an abnormally low ESR1:ESR2 ratio due to excessive levels of ESR2, which mediates an estrogen-driven inflammatory process and prostaglandin formation. These cells are also deficient in PGR, leading to progesterone resistance and defective retinoid synthesis. The pattern of NR expression, involving low ESR1 and PGR and high ESR2, is reminiscent of uterine leiomyoma stem cells. This led us to speculate that endometriotic stromal cells may display stem cell characteristics found in other uterine tissues. The biologic consequences of these abnormalities in endometriotic tissue include intense inflammation, defective differentiation and enhanced survival. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: Steroid- A nd other NR-related abnormalities exert genome-wide biologic effects via interaction with defective epigenetic programming and enhance inflammation in endometriotic stromal cells. New synthetic ligands, targeting PGR, retinoic acid receptors and ESR2, may offer novel treatment options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdmz005
Pages (from-to)473-485
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • ESR2
  • NR2F2
  • PGR
  • SF-1
  • endometriosis
  • nuclear receptors
  • progesterone resistance
  • retinoids
  • stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine


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