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Assessment of the oestrogenic activity of the contraceptive progestin levonorgestrel and its non-phenolic metabolites

Levonorgestrel (13β-ethyl-17α-ethynyl-17β-hydroxy-4-gonen-3-one), a potent contraceptive progestin stimulates growth and proliferation of cultured breast cancer cells through a receptor-mediated mechanism, even though levonorgestrel does not bind to the oestrogen receptor (ER). To assess whether the oestrogen-like effects induced by this synthetic progestin are exerted via its metabolic conversion products, we studied the binding affinity of three A-ring levonorgestrel derivatives to the ER and their capability to transactivate an oestrogen-dependent yeast system co-transfected with the human ER gene and oestrogen responsive elements fused to a β-galactosidase reporter vector. The results demonstrated that the 3β,5α reduced levonorgestrel derivative and to a lesser extent its 3α isomer interact with the oestrogen receptor, with a significantly lower relative binding affinity (2.4% and 0.4%, respectively) than that of oestradiol (100%), while levonorgestrel does not. Both levonorgestrel metabolites were able to activate, in a dose-dependent manner, the β-galactosidase reporter gene in the yeast expression system, an effect that was precluded by a steroidal antioestrogen. The oestrogenic potency of levonorgestrel metabolites was significantly lower (750-fold) than that of oestradiol. Furthermore, high doses of 3β,5α levonorgestrel (2.5 mg/day/6 days) induced an increase of oestrogen-dependent progestin receptor in the anterior pituitary of castrated rats. The overall data offer a plausible explanation for the weak oestrogenic effects induced by high, non-pharmacological doses of levonorgestrel. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png European Journal of Pharmacology Elsevier
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