Cellular receptors for sex steroids (SSRs) were studied in an unselected series of 55 human pituitary tumors. Cytosolic receptors for estrogen (ERcs) and progesterone (PgRcs) were determined in all cases and cytosolic androgen receptors (ARcs) in 47 cases. Nuclear receptors (ERns, PgRns, ARns) were also studied in 33 cases. ERs and PgRs were determined by an ELISA and ARs by [3H]methyltrienolone binding. Where both cytosolic and nuclear receptors were studied (n=33), ERs, PgRs and ARs were found in at least one subcellular fraction in 66·7, 60·6 and 81·8% of cases respectively, ERs and ARs being mainly recovered from the cytosol and PgRs from the nucleus. No linear correlation was found between preoperative plasma steroid hormones and their specific cellular receptors. Nonetheless, the differential expression of SSRs according to sex and gonadal status at the time of surgery strongly supports their regulation by the steroid environment in vivo: PgRcs were more frequent in tumors found in women (41·4 vs 15·4%, P<0·05), whereas a high expression of ERcs and ARcs (>15 fmol/mg protein) was more common in tumors found in men (34·5 vs 10·3%, P<0·05 and 54·5 vs 24·0% respectively). PgRs were positively correlated with ERns, indicating the possibility of estrogen priming of their expression, and negatively correlated with ARs in nuclear fractions. SSRs appeared to be widely distributed among pituitary tumors, although, compared with other hormone-secreting groups, prolactinomas displayed a higher ERc expression (34·8 ± 11·3 vs 4·8 ± 5·1 fmol/mg protein, P=0·007) and gonadotroph cell adenomas lower ARc values (1·3 ± 0·8 vs 38·2 ± 10·6 fmol/mg protein, P=0·048). Microadenomas were characterized by a higher PgR expression than macroadenomas, whereas hemorrhagic (macro)adenomas were characterized by a high ER expression (>90%). The present results indicate that most pituitary tumors are targets for sex steroids, SSR expression being partially triggered by the steroid environment itself. Possible physiopathological and therapeutic implications of these findings are discussed.
Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 151, 175–184