• dopamine neurones;
  • embryonic stem cells;
  • progesterone;
  • tyrosine hydroxylase

Progesterone participates in the regulation of several functions in mammals, including brain differentiation and dopaminergic transmission, but the role of progesterone in dopaminergic cell differentiation is unknown. We investigated the effects of progesterone on dopaminergic differentiation of embryonic stem cells using a five-stage protocol. Cells were incubated with different progesterone concentrations during the proliferation (stage 4) or differentiation (stage 5) phases. Progesterone added at 1, 10 and 100 nm during stage 4 increased the number of dopamine neurones at stage 5 by 72%, 80% and 62%, respectively, compared to the control group. The administration of progesterone at stage 5 did not induce significant changes in the number of dopamine neurones. These actions were not mediated by the activation of intracellular progesterone receptors because RU 486 did not block the positive effects of progesterone on differentiation to dopaminergic neurones. The results obtained suggest that progesterone should prove useful with respect to producing higher proportions of dopamine neurones from embryonic stem cells in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.