"Background: About one-third of patients with estrogen receptor alpha (ERα)-positive breast cancer have tumors which are progesterone receptor (PR) negative. PR is an important prognostic factor in breast cancer. Patients with ERα-positive/PR-negative tumors have shorter disease-free and overall survival than patients with ERα-positive/PR-positive tumors. New evidence has shown that progesterone (P4) has an anti-proliferative effect in ERα-positive breast cancer cells. However, the role of PR in breast cancer is only poorly understood.
Methods: We disrupted the PR gene (PGR) in ERα-positive/PR-positive T-47D cells using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. This resulted in cell pools we termed PR-low as P4 mediated effects were inhibited or blocked compared to control T-47D cells. We analyzed the gene expression profiles of PR-low and control T-47D cells in the absence of hormone and upon treatment with P4 alone or P4 together with estradiol (E2). Differentially expressed (DE) genes between experimental groups were characterized based on RNA-seq and Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analyses.
Results: The overall gene expression pattern was very similar between untreated PR-low and untreated control T-47D cells. More than 6000 genes were DE in control T-47D cells upon stimulation with P4 or P4 plus E2. When PR-low pools were subjected to the same hormonal treatment, up- or downregulation was either blocked/absent or consistently lower. We identified more than 3000 genes that were DE between hormone-treated PR-low and control T-47D cells. GO analysis revealed seven significantly enriched biological processes affected by PR and associated with G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) pathways which have been described to support growth, invasiveness, and metastasis in breast cancer cells.
Conclusions: The present study provides new insights into the complex role of PR in ERα-positive/PR-positive breast cancer cells. Many of the genes affected by PR are part of central biological processes of tumorigenesis."