Progesterone receptor antagonists reverse stem cell expansion and the paracrine effectors of progesterone action in the mouse mammary gland

Manish Ranjan, Oukseub Lee, Gannon Cottone, Elnaz Mirzaei Mehrabad, Benjamin T. Spike, Zexian Zeng, Shivangi Yadav, Robert Chatterton, J. Julie Kim, Susan E. Clare*, Seema A. Khan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone (EP) are implicated in breast cancer causation. A specific consequence of progesterone exposure is the expansion of the mammary stem cell (MSC) and luminal progenitor (LP) compartments. We hypothesized that this effect, and its molecular facilitators, could be abrogated by progesterone receptor (PR) antagonists administered in a mouse model. Methods: Ovariectomized FVB mice were randomized to 14 days of treatment: sham, EP, EP + telapristone (EP + TPA), EP + mifepristone (EP + MFP). Mice were then sacrificed, mammary glands harvested, and mammary epithelial cell lineages separated by flow cytometry using cell surface markers. RNA from each lineage was sequenced and differential gene expression was analyzed using DESeq. Quantitative PCR was performed to confirm the candidate genes discovered in RNA seq. ANOVA with Tukey post hoc analysis was performed to compare relative expression. Alternative splicing events were examined using the rMATs multivariate analysis tool. Results: Significant increases in the MSC and luminal mature (LM) cell fractions were observed following EP treatment compared to control (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively), whereas the LP fraction was significantly reduced (p < 0.05). These hormone-induced effects were reversed upon exposure to TPA and MFP (p < 0.01 for both). Gene Ontology analysis of RNA-sequencing data showed EP-induced enrichment of several pathways, with the largest effect on Wnt signaling in MSC, significantly repressed by PR inhibitors. In LP cells, significant induction of Wnt4 and Rankl, and Wnt pathway intermediates Lrp2 and Axin2 (confirmed by qRTPCR) were reversed by TPA and MFP (p < 0.0001). Downstream signaling intermediates of these pathways (Lrp5, Mmp7) showed similar effects. Expression of markers of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (Cdh1, Cdh3) and the induction of EMT regulators (Zeb1, Zeb2, Gli3, Snai1, and Ptch2) were significantly responsive to progesterone. EP treatment was associated with large-scale alternative splicing events, with an enrichment of motifs associated with Srsf, Esrp, and Rbfox families. Exon skipping was observed in Cdh1, Enah, and Brd4. Conclusions: PR inhibition reverses known tumorigenic pathways in the mammary gland and suppresses a previously unknown effect of progesterone on RNA splicing events. In total, our results strengthen the case for reconsideration of PR inhibitors for breast cancer prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Alternative RNA splicing
  • Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
  • Luminal progenitor cells
  • Mammary stem cells
  • Progesterone receptor modulators
  • estrogen and progesterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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