Biology Publications


Expression of Progesterone Metabolizing Enzyme Genes (AKR1C1, AKR1C2, AKR1C3, SRD5A1, SRD5A2) is Altered in Human Breast Carcinoma

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BMC Cancer






Background: Recent evidence suggests that progesterone metabolites play important roles in regulating breast cancer. Previous studies have shown that tumorous tissues have higher 5alpha-reductase (5alphaR) and lower 3alpha-hydroxysteroid oxidoreductase (3alpha-HSO) and 20alpha-HSO activities. The resulting higher levels of 5alpha-reduced progesterone metabolites such as 5alpha-pregnane-3,20-dione (5alphaP) in tumorous tissue promote cell proliferation and detachment, whereas the 4-pregnene metabolites, 4-pregnen-3alpha-ol-20-one (3alphaHP) and 4-pregnen-20alpha-ol-3-one (20alphaDHP), more prominent in normal tissue, have the opposite (anti-cancer-like) effects. The aim of this study was to determine if the differences in enzyme activities between tumorous and nontumorous breast tissues are associated with differences in progesterone metabolizing enzyme gene expression.

Methods: Semi-quantitative RT-PCR was used to compare relative expression (as a ratio of 18S rRNA) of 5alphaR type 1 (SRD5A1), 5alphaR type 2 (SRD5A2), 3alpha-HSO type 2 (AKR1C3), 3alpha-HSO type 3 (AKR1C2) and 20alpha-HSO (AKR1C1) mRNAs in paired (tumorous and nontumorous) breast tissues from 11 patients, and unpaired tumor tissues from 17 patients and normal tissues from 10 reduction mammoplasty samples.

Results: Expression of 5alphaR1 and 5alphaR2 in 11/11 patients was higher (mean of 4.9- and 3.5-fold, respectively; p < 0.001) in the tumor as compared to the paired normal tissues. Conversely, expression of 3alpha-HSO2, 3alpha-HSO3 and 20alpha-HSO was higher (2.8-, 3.9- and 4.4-fold, respectively; p < 0.001) in normal than in tumor sample. The mean tumor:normal expression ratios for 5alphaR1 and 5alphaR2 were about 35-85-fold higher than the tumor:normal expression ratios for the HSOs. Similarly, in the unmatched samples, the tumor:normal ratios for 5alphaR were significantly higher than the ratios for the HSOs.

Conclusions: The study shows changes in progesterone metabolizing enzyme gene expression in human breast carcinoma. Expression of SRD5A1 (5alphaR1) and SRD5A2 (5alphaR2) is elevated, and expression of AKR1C1 (20alpha-HSO), AKR1C2 (3alpha-HSO3) and AKR1C3 (3alpha-HSO2) is reduced in tumorous as compared to normal breast tissue. The changes in progesterone metabolizing enzyme expression levels help to explain the increases in mitogen/metastasis inducing 5alphaP and decreases in mitogen/metastasis inhibiting 3alphaHP progesterone metabolites found in breast tumor tissues. Understanding what causes these changes in expression could help in designing protocols to prevent or reverse the changes in progesterone metabolism associated with breast cancer.


Published in: BMC Cancer, 2004, 4:27. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-4-27

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