Progesterone inhibits the proliferation of normal breast epithelial cells in vivo, as well as breast cancer cells in vitro. But the biologic mechanism of this inhibition remains to be determined. We explored the possibility that an antiproliferative activity of progesterone in breast cancer cell lines is due to its ability to induce apoptosis. Since p53, bcl-2 and survivin genetically control the apoptotic process, we investigated whether or not these genes could be involved in the progesterone-induced apoptosis.
We found a maximal 90% inhibition of cell proliferation with T47-D breast cancer cells after exposure to 10 μM progesterone for 72 h. Control progesterone receptor negative MDA-231 cancer cells were unresponsive to 10 μM progesterone. The earliest sign of apoptosis is translocation of phosphatidylserine from the inner to the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane and can be monitored by the calcium-dependent binding of annexin V in conjunction with flow cytometry. After 24 h of exposure to 10 μM progesterone, cytofluorometric analysis of T47-D breast cancer cells indicated 43% were annexin V-positive and had undergone apoptosis and no cells showed signs of cellular necrosis (propidium iodide negative). After 72 h of exposure to 10 μM progesterone, 48% of the cells had undergone apoptosis and 40% were annexin V positive/propidium iodide positive indicating signs of necrosis. Control untreated cancer cells did not undergo apoptosis. Evidence proving apoptosis was also demonstrated by fragmentation of nuclear DNA into multiples of oligonucleosomal fragments.
After 24 h of exposure of T47-D cells to either 1 or 10 μM progesterone, we observed a marked down-regulation of protooncogene bcl-2 protein and mRNA levels. mRNA levels of survivin and the metastatic variant CD44 v7-v10 were also downregulated. Progesterone increased p53 mRNA levels.
These results demonstrate that progesterone at relative high physiological concentrations, but comparable to those seen in plasma during the third trimester of human pregnancy, exhibited a strong antiproliferative effect on breast cancer cells and induced apoptosis.
breast cancer cellsanti-apoptotic genesapoptosisprogesterone