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Sangeeta Kumari, Dhirodatta Senapati and Hannelore V Heemers

With few exceptions, the almost 30,000 prostate cancer deaths annually in the United States are due to failure of androgen deprivation therapy. Androgen deprivation therapy prevents ligand-activation of the androgen receptor. Despite initial remission after androgen deprivation therapy, prostate cancer almost invariably progresses while continuing to rely on androgen receptor action. Androgen receptor’s transcriptional output, which ultimately controls prostate cancer behavior, is an alternative therapeutic target, but its molecular regulation is poorly understood. Recent insights in the molecular mechanisms by which the androgen receptor controls transcription of its target genes are uncovering gene specificity as well as context-dependency. Heterogeneity in the androgen receptor’s transcriptional output is reflected both in its recruitment to diverse cognate DNA binding motifs and in its preferential interaction with associated pioneering factors, other secondary transcription factors and coregulators at those sites. This variability suggests that multiple, distinct modes of androgen receptor action that regulate diverse aspects of prostate cancer biology and contribute differentially to prostate cancer’s clinical progression are active simultaneously in prostate cancer cells. Recent progress in the development of peptidomimetics and small molecules, and application of Chem-Seq approaches indicate the feasibility for selective disruption of critical protein–protein and protein–DNA interactions in transcriptional complexes. Here, we review the recent literature on the different molecular mechanisms by which the androgen receptor transcriptionally controls prostate cancer progression, and we explore the potential to translate these insights into novel, more selective forms of therapies that may bypass prostate cancer’s resistance to conventional androgen deprivation therapy.