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Caroline A Lamb, Victoria T Fabris, Britta M Jacobsen, Alfredo Molinolo and Claudia Lanari

There is a consensus that progestins and thus their cognate receptor molecules, the progesterone receptors (PRs), are essential in the development of the adult mammary gland and regulators of proliferation and lactation. However, a role for natural progestins in breast carcinogenesis remains poorly understood. A hint to that possible role came from studies in which the synthetic progestin medroxyprogesterone acetate was associated with an increased breast cancer risk in women under hormone replacement therapy. However, progestins have also been used for breast cancer treatment and to inhibit the growth of several experimental breast cancer models. More recently, PRs have been shown to be regulators of estrogen receptor signaling. With all this information, the question is how can we target PR, and if so, which patients may benefit from such an approach? PRs are not single unique molecules. Two main PR isoforms have been characterized, PRA and PRB, which exert different functions and the relative abundance of one isoform with respect to the other determines the response of PR agonists and antagonists. Immunohistochemistry with standard antibodies against PR do not discriminate between isoforms. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge on the expression of both PR isoforms in mammary glands, in experimental models of breast cancer and in breast cancer patients, to better understand how the PRA/PRB ratio can be exploited therapeutically to design personalized therapeutic strategies.