C-7 analogues of progesterone as potent inhibitors of the P-glycoprotein efflux pump

Fabio Leonessa, Ji Hyun Kim, Alem Ghiorghis, Robert J. Kulawiec, Charles Hammer, Abdelhossein Talebian, Robert Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The P-glycoprotein product (Pgp) of the MDR1 gene has been implicated in the multiple drug resistance phenotype expressed by many cancers. Functioning as an efflux pump, P-glycoprotein prevents the accumulation of high intracellular concentrations of substrates. We have taken a rational approach to designing inhibitors of P-glycoprotein function, selecting a natural substrate (progesterone) as our lead compound. We hypothesized that progesterone, substituted at C-7 with an aromatic moiety(s), would exhibit reduced Pgp affinity, significantly increased antiPgp activity, and reduced affinity for progesterone receptors (PGR). We synthesized 7α-[4′-(aminophenyl)thio]pregna-4-ene-3,20-dione (2), which comprises a C-7α thiol bridge linking an aminophenyl moiety to progesterone, from pregna-4,6-diene-3,20-dione (1). The subsequent addition reaction of 2 with the appropriate isocyanate produced an initial series of compounds (3-6). Compounds 3-5 (respectively, -CH2CH2Cl; -CH2CH3; and -CH(CH3)C6H5) exhibit a significantly increased ability to inhibit P-glycoprotein. Potency for restoring doxorubicin accumulation in MDR1-transduced human breast cancer cells is increased up to 60-fold as compared with progesterone. Compound 5 has greater potency than verapamil and is equipotent with cyclosporin A, for inhibiting P-glycoprotein function. Furthermore, 5 does not bind to PGR, implying a potential reduction in in vivo toxicity. These data identify C-7-substituted progesterone analogues and 5, in particular, as rationally designed antiPgp compounds worthy of further evaluation/development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-398
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of medicinal chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 17 2002
Externally publishedYes


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