We have studied the interactions of four fluorescent steroid conjugates with either the estrogen or progesterone receptor, both in whole cells and cell-free receptor preparations. The fluorophore, nitrobenzoxadiazole (NBD), was conjugated with a synthetic progestin, with a steroidal estrogen, a non-steroidal estrogen, and with an antiestrogen. With all compounds, receptor-specific binding could be detected by fluorescence measurements following extraction from the protein into an organic solvent. In the native state, however, the NBD-ligand-receptor complex is essentially non-emissive, although these ligands fluoresce strongly when associated with non-specific binders such as albumin. The binding site concentrations and relative affinities determined by fluorescence (after extraction) correspond well with those determined by [3H]estradiol or [3H]R5020 binding to their respective receptors. In T47D breast cancer cells, the NBD-progestin showed receptor-mediated uptake and nuclear localization. These compounds have provided valuable information about the interactions of low and medium affinity ligands with their receptors; however, the successful use of fluorescent ligands for detecting steroid receptors under native-bound conditions, by "imaging" modalities (fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry) will require the development of fluorophores that are emissive while receptor bound or assay protocols that enable the environment of ligands associated with the receptor to be controlled.
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