Regulation of aromatase P450 expression in endometriotic and endometrial stromal cells by CCAAT/enhancer binding proteins (C/EBPs): Decreased C/EBPβ in endometriosis is associated with overexpression of aromatase

Sijun Yang, Zongjuan Fang, Takashi Suzuki, Hironobu Sasano, Jianfeng Zhou, Bilgin Gurates, Mitsutoshi Tamura, Karen Ferrer, Serdar Bulun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In human endometriotic stromal cells, markedly high levels of aromatase P450 (P450arom) mRNA and promoter II activity are present and can be vigorously stimulated by PGE2 via a cAMP-dependent pathway to give rise to physiologically significant estrogen biosynthesis. Stromal cells of eutopic endometrium, on the other hand, do not express sufficient levels of P450arom for detectable enzyme activity. Because P450arom is up-regulated in the ovaries of CCAAT/enhancer binding protein (C/EBP) β knockout mice and activation of the ovarian-type P450arom promoter (II) is responsible for aberrant P450arom expression in endometriosis, we sought here to evaluate the possible roles of C/EBP isoforms in the regulation of P450arom expression in endometriotic vs. eutopic endometrial stromal cells. We previously found that the -517-bp flanking region of promoter II contained the critical cis-acting elements for baseline and cAMP (analog)-induced activity. In this study, we disrupted several potential sequences and found that mutations of a -211/-197-bp cAMP-response element (CRE) and a -317/-304-bp C/EBP binding site abolished both baseline and cAMP-induced promoter II activity. Ectopic expression of C/EBPα increased both baseline and cAMP-dependent promoter II activity significantly in endometriotic cells, whereas ectopic expression of C/EBPβ or C/EBPδ abolished promoter II activity in both untreated and cAMP-treated endometriotic stromal cells. Comparable changes in promoter II activity were observed using endometrial stromal cells, which showed, however, seemingly diminished levels of baseline and cAMP-induced promoter II activity in comparison with endometriotic cells. EMSA using a probe containing the critical -317/-304-bp C/EBP site upstream of promoter II demonstrated a distinct DNA-protein complex in endometriotic, but not in endometrial stromal cells. This specific complex, however, could not be altered using antibodies against C/EBPα, -β, or -δ. Because CRE is another potential DNA motif that can bind C/EBP isoforms, we next used EMSA using a probe containing the -211/-197-bp CRE and demonstrated that specific DNA-protein complexes contained C/EBPα but not C/EBPβ or C/EBPδ in endometriotic stromal cells. In contrast, C/EBPβ and C/EBPδ but not C/EBPα were detected in DNA-protein complexes using nuclear extracts from endometrial stromal cells. Western blotting and immunohistochemistry demonstrated expression of C/EBPα, -β, and -δ in human endometriotic and endometrial stroma and epithelium. Intriguingly, C/EBPβ was expressed at increased levels in stromal cells of human eutopic endometrium compared with simultaneously biopsied endometriotic tissues. We conclude that both -317/-304 and -211/-197-bp elements in promoter II are critical for the robust cAMP-dependent induction in endometriosis. C/EBPα up-regulates, whereas C/EBPβ and C/EBPδ inhibit P450arom promoter activity via binding primarily to the -211/-197-bp CRE under in vitro conditions. In vivo down-regulation of C/EBPβ in endometriotic stromal cells and its up-regulation in endometrial stromal cells may in part account for the induction of P450arom expression in endometriosis and its inhibition in endometrium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2336-2345
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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