New Article by Wellesley Researchers Explains Different Ways Progesterone Affects the Brain

September 15, 2015
Postdoctoral fellow Kalpana D. Acharya, working in the Tetel lab in the Science Center

Scientists have long understood the important roles the hormones estradiol and progesterone play in a variety of physiological processes, from puberty and reproduction to breast and uterine health. Yet the role of progesterone in the brain has not been as clear.

A team of Wellesley researchers, working in the lab of Marc J. Tetel, Class of 1966 Associate Professor of Neuroscience, recently published a paper in the online journal eNeuro that provides new insight into how progesterone acts in the brain, particularly the hypothalamus. This research is part of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.   

"Progesterone needs to bind to specific proteins called receptors to execute its effects. It’s almost like a lock and key," said Kalpana D. Acharya, a postdoctoral and the lead author of the article. "There are two receptors for progesterone, PR-A and PR-B, and depending on which one it binds to, the actions of the hormone can be very different."

To test each receptor separately, the researchers used mice that had only one of the two receptors, either PR-A or PR-B. The team then looked at how each receptor could contribute differently, to determine its potential impact on specific regions of the brain.

"These novel findings suggest that progesterone can function differently in specific regions of the brain, which could affect female reproduction and associated behaviors as well," said Acharya. "This information could also contribute to an understanding of the roles of the two progesterone receptors in breast and uterine cancer, when hormone levels are out of line."

The article's co-authors include Sarah D. Finkelstein '14, Elizabeth P. Bless, Sabin A. Nettles, and Marc J. Tetel at Wellesley, and three collaborators from Baylor College of Medicine: Biserka Mulac-Jericevic, Orla M. Conneely, and Shaila K. Mani.

"Sarah [Finkelstein] wrote her senior thesis on this topic; that was the genesis for the article," said Marc Tetel. "One reason Wellesley produces cutting-edge research is because we have such outstanding students and a long tradition of faculty and students collaborating in the lab."

For more information on the team's findings, read the full paper: "Estradiol Preferentially Induces Progestin Receptor-A (PR-A) Over PR-B in Cells Expressing Nuclear Receptor Coactivators in the Female Mouse Hypothalamus."