Glucocorticoid receptor activation inhibits chemotherapy-induced cell death in high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma

Erica M. Stringer-Reasor, Gabrielle M. Baker, Maxwell N. Skor, Masha Kocherginsky, Ernst Lengyel, Gini F. Fleming*, Suzanne D. Conzen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Objectives To test the hypothesis that glucocorticoid receptor (GR) activation increases resistance to chemotherapy in high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGS-OvCa) and that treatment with a GR antagonist will improve sensitivity to chemotherapy. Methods GR expression was assessed in OvCa cell lines by qRT-PCR and Western blot analysis and in xenografts and primary human tumors using immunohistochemistry (IHC). We also examined the effect of GR activation versus inhibition on chemotherapy-induced cytotoxicity in OvCa cell lines and in a xenograft model. Results With the exception of IGROV-1 cells, all OvCa cell lines tested had detectable GR expression by Western blot and qRT-PCR analysis. Twenty-five out of the 27 human primary HGS-OvCas examined expressed GR by IHC. No cell line expressed detectable progesterone receptor (PR) or androgen receptor (AR) by Western blot analysis. In vitro assays showed that in GR-positive HeyA8 and SKOV3 cells, dexamethasone (100 nM) treatment upregulated the pro-survival genes SGK1 and MKP1/DUSP1 and inhibited carboplatin/gemcitabine-induced cell death. Concurrent treatment with two GR antagonists, either mifepristone (100 nM) or CORT125134 (100 nM), partially reversed these effects. There was no anti-apoptotic effect of dexamethasone on chemotherapy-induced cell death in IGROV-1 cells, which did not have detectable GR protein. Mifepristone treatment alone was not cytotoxic in any cell line. HeyA8 OvCa xenograft studies demonstrated that adding mifepristone to carboplatin/gemcitabine increased tumor shrinkage by 48% compared to carboplatin/gemcitabine treatment alone (P = 0.0004). Conclusions These results suggest that GR antagonism sensitizes GR+ OvCa to chemotherapy-induced cell death through inhibition of GR-mediated cell survival pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)656-662
Number of pages7
JournalGynecologic oncology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Chemotherapy
  • GR antagonist
  • Mifepristone
  • Ovarian cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Oncology


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