A Role for Progesterone-Regulated sFRP4 Expression in Uterine Leiomyomas

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Despite progesterone's key role in uterine smooth muscle tumorigenesis, the mechanisms by which it promotes the growth of uterine leiomyomas remain poorly understood.


The aim of this study was to identify gene products mediating the effects of progesterone in uterine leiomyomas.


Gene expression profiling was used to identify putative progesterone-regulated genes differentially expressed in uterine leiomyomas, which were then studied in vitro.


Gene expression was comprehensively profiled with the Illumina WG BeadChip (version 2.6) and analyzed with a bioinformatic algorithm that integrates known protein-protein interactions. Genomic binding sites for progesterone receptor (PR) were interrogated by chromatin immunoprecipitation—quantitative polymerase chain reaction (ChIP-qPCR). Small interfering RNA was used to study gene function in primary cell lines.


Our analyses identified secreted Frizzled-related protein 4 (sFRP4) as a key gene product functionally linked to PR activation whose expression was 2.6 times higher in leiomyomas than myometrium (n = 26, P < 0.01) and 2.5 times higher during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle (n = 26, P < 0.01). Direct binding between PR and sFRP4 promoter was observed by ChIP-qPCR. Robust overexpression of sFRP4 was also observed in primary cultures derived from leiomyoma. Progesterone preferentially inhibited sFRP4 expression and secretion in leiomyoma cultures in a dose-dependent manner sensitized by estradiol. Knockdown of sFRP4 inhibited proliferation and apoptosis in primary cultures of both myometrium and leiomyoma.


Overexpression of sFRP4 is a robust, progesterone-regulated feature of leiomyomas that increases smooth muscle proliferation. More work is needed to elucidate how progesterone's ability to modulate sFRP4 expression contributes to uterine smooth muscle tumorigenesis.

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