Progesterone receptor integrates the effects of mutated MED12 and altered DNA methylation to stimulate RANKL expression and stem cell proliferation in uterine leiomyoma.


Division of Reproductive Science in Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, 60611, USA. [Email]


Progesterone and its receptor, PR, are essential for uterine leiomyoma (LM, a.k.a., fibroid) tumorigenesis, but the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms remain unclear. The receptor activator of NF-κB (RANKL) was recently identified as a novel progesterone/PR-responsive gene that plays an important role in promoting LM growth. Here, we used RANKL as a representative gene to investigate how steroid hormone, genetic, and epigenetic signals are integrated to regulate LM stem cell (LSC) function. We demonstrated that RANKL specifically upregulates LSC proliferation through activation of Cyclin D1. RANKL gene transcription was robustly induced by the progesterone agonist R5020, leading to a dramatically higher RANKL expression in LM compared to adjacent myometrial (MM) tissue. MethylCap-Seq revealed a differentially methylated region (DMR) adjacent to the distal PR-binding site (PRBS) 87 kb upstream of the RANKL transcription start site. Hypermethylation of the DMR inhibited recruitment of PR to the adjacent PRBS. Luciferase assays indicated that the DMR and distal PRBS constitute a novel RANKL distal regulatory element that actively regulates RANKL expression. Furthermore, MED12 physically interacts with PR in LM tissue. The interaction between MED12 and PR, binding of PR and MED12 to PRBS, and RANKL gene expression are significantly higher in LM containing a distinct MED12 mutation (G44D) than in LM with wild-type MED12. In summary, our findings suggest that DNA methylation and MED12 mutation together constitute a complex regulatory network that affects progesterone/PR-mediated RANKL gene expression, with an important role in activating stem cell proliferation and fibroid tumor development.

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