Progesterone receptor (PR) mediates the effects of progesterone in mammary tissues and plays a crucial role in normal breast development and in breast cancer. PR proteins are expressed as two isoforms, PRA and PRB, that have different capacities to activate target genes, yet it is unknown whether progesterone action in normal and malignant breast is mediated by PRA and/or PRB. This study determines the relative expression of PRA and PRB in normal breast and in benign, premalignant and malignant archival breast lesions by dual immunofluorescent histochemistry.
In normal breast and in proliferative disease without atypia (PDWA) PRA and PRB were co-expressed within the same cells in comparable amounts, implicating both isoforms in progesterone action. In atypical lesions, however, there was a significant increase in predominant expression of PRA or PRB, with lesion progression from the normal state to malignancy. PR isoform predominance, especially PRA predominance, was evident in a high proportion of ductal carcinomas in situ (DCIS) and invasive breast lesions.
In the normal breast and in PDWA, the relative expression of PRA and PRB in adjacent cells was homogenous. There was a significant increase in cell-to-cell heterogeneity of PR isoform expression in ADH and DCIS lesions and in the majority of breast cancers. Heterogeneous cell-to-cell expression of PR isoforms occurred prior to overall predominant expression of one isoform in premalignant breast lesions, demonstrating that loss of control of relative PRA:PRB expression is an early event in the development of breast cancer. PRA:PRB ratios within a breast lesion are likely to be important as both markers and effectors of tumor growth and development, and progressively aberrant PR isoform expression may play a role in the etiology of breast cancer.