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Activity and Expression of Progesterone Metabolizing 5α-reductase, 20α-hydroxysteroid Oxidoreductase and 3α(β)-hydroxysteroid Oxidoreductases in Tumorigenic (MCF-7, MDA-MB-231, T-47D) and Nontumorigenic (MCF-10A) Human Breast Cancer Cells

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BMC Cancer





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Background: Recent observations indicate that human tumorous breast tissue metabolizes progesterone differently than nontumorous breast tissue. Specifically, 5alpha-reduced metabolites (5alpha-pregnanes, shown to stimulate cell proliferation and detachment) are produced at a significantly higher rate in tumorous tissue, indicating increased 5alpha-reductase (5alphaR) activity. Conversely, the activities of 3alpha-hydroxysteroid oxidoreductase (3alpha-HSO) and 20alpha-HSO enzymes appeared to be higher in normal tissues. The elevated conversion to 5alpha-pregnanes occurred regardless of estrogen (ER) or progesterone (PR) receptor levels. To gain insight into these differences, the activities and expression of these progesterone converting enzymes were investigated in a nontumorigenic cell line, MCF-10A (ER- and PR-negative), and the three tumorigenic cell lines, MDA-MB-231 (ER- and PR-negative), MCF-7 and T-47D (ER- and PR-positive).

Methods: For the enzyme activity studies, either whole cells were incubated with [14C]progesterone for 2, 4, 8, and 24 hours, or the microsomal/cytosolic fraction was incubated for 15-60 minutes with [3H]progesterone, and the metabolites were identified and quantified. Semi-quantitative RT-PCR was employed to determine the relative levels of expression of 5alphaR type1 (SRD5A1), 5alphaR type 2 (SRD5A2), 20alpha-HSO (AKR1C1), 3alpha-HSO type 2 (AKR1C3), 3alpha-HSO type 3 (AKR1C2) and 3beta-HSO (HSD3B1/HSD3B2) in the four cell lines using 18S rRNA as an internal control.

Results: The relative 5alpha-reductase activity, when considered as a ratio of 5alpha-pregnanes/4-pregnenes, was 4.21 (+/- 0.49) for MCF-7 cells, 6.24 (+/- 1.14) for MDA-MB-231 cells, 4.62 (+/- 0.43) for T-47D cells and 0.65 (+/- 0.07) for MCF-10A cells, constituting approximately 6.5-fold, 9.6-fold and 7.1 fold higher conversion to 5alpha-pregnanes in the tumorigenic cells, respectively, than in the nontumorigenic MCF-10A cells. Conversely, the 20alpha-HSO and 3alpha-HSO activities were significantly higher (p < 0.001) in MCF-10A cells than in the other three cell types. In the MCF-10A cells, 20alpha-HSO activity was 8-14-fold higher and the 3alpha-HSO activity was 2.5-5.4-fold higher than in the other three cell types. The values of 5alphaR:20alpha-HSO ratios were 16.9-32.6-fold greater and the 5alphaR:3alpha-HSO ratios were 5.2-10.5-fold greater in MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and T-47D cells than in MCF-10A cells. RT-PCR showed significantly higher expression of 5alphaR1 (p < 0.001), and lower expression of 20alpha-HSO (p < 0.001), 3alpha-HSO2 (p < 0.001), 3alpha-HSO3 (p < 0.001) in MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and T-47D cells than in MCF-10A cells.

Conclusion: The findings provide the first evidence that the 5alphaR activity (leading to the conversion of progesterone to the cancer promoting 5alpha-pregnanes) is significantly higher in the tumorigenic MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and T-47D breast cell lines than in the nontumorigenic MCF-10A cell line. The higher 5alphaR activity coincides with significantly greater expression of 5alphaR1. On the other hand, the activities of 20alpha-HSO and 3alpha-HSO are higher in the MCF-10A cells than in MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and T-47D cells; these differences in activity correlate with significantly higher expression of 20alpha-HSO, 3alpha-HSO2 and 3alpha-HSO3 in MCF-10A cells. Changes in progesterone metabolizing enzyme expression (resulting in enzyme activity changes) may be responsible for stimulating breast cancer by increased production of tumor-promoting 5alpha-pregnanes and decreased production of anti-cancer 20alpha--and 3alpha-4-pregnenes.

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