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A direct comparison of the transcriptional activities of progestins used in contraception and menopausal hormone therapy via the mineralocorticoid receptor

Louw-du Toit R1Hapgood JP2Africander D3.

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2020 Mar 28. pii: S0006-291X(20)30591-X. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2020.03.100. [Epub ahead of print]



A variety of structurally and functionally distinct progestins is used in contraception and menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). Some progestins elicit off-target effects by binding to steroid receptors other than the progesterone receptor, which may impact their therapeutic and side-effect profiles. We directly compared the binding affinities, efficacies and potencies of selected progestins via the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR). We did not detect a significant difference in the affinities of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), norethisterone acetate (NET-A), levonorgestrel (LNG), gestodene (GES), etonogestrel (ETG), nestorone (NES) and nomegestrel acetate (NoMAC) for the MR, while these were significantly lower compared to drospirenone (DRSP). While GES and NoMAC display affinities indistinguishable from progesterone (P4), the binding affinity of DRSP is significantly greater and all other progestins significantly lower than that of P4. Dose-response analyses showed that P4, GES and ETG display indistinguishable MR antagonist potencies for transactivation to the well-known MR antagonist spironolactone, while LNG, NoMAC and DRSP are significantly more potent than spironolactone and MPA, NET-A and NES are significantly less potent. Similar to our previous findings for NET-A, we show that LNG, GES, ETG and NES dissociate between transactivation and transrepression via the MR. Together our results provide strong evidence for progestin- and promoter-specific transcriptional effects via the MR, which are poorly predicted by relative binding affinities. A comparison of the binding affinities and potencies with reported free serum concentrations of progestins relative to the endogenous mineralocorticoid aldosterone, suggest that all progestins except MPA, NET-A and NES will likely compete with aldosterone for binding to the MR in vivo at doses used in hormonal therapy to elicit physiologically significant off-target effects.