Binding of a hormone agonist to a steroid receptor leads to the dissociation of heat shock proteins, dimerization, specific DNA binding, and target gene activation. Although the progesterone antagonist RU486 can induce most of these events, it fails to activate human progesterone receptor (hPR)-dependent transcription. We have previously demonstrated that a conformational change is a key event leading to receptor activation. The major conformational distinction between hormone- and antihormone-bound receptors occurs within the C-terminal portion of the molecule. Furthermore, hPR mutants lacking the C terminus become transcriptionally active in the presence of RU486. These results suggest that the C terminus contains a repressor domain that inhibits the transcriptional activity of the RU486-bound hPR. In this study, we have defined a 12 amino acid (12AA) region in the C terminus of hPR that is necessary and sufficient for the repressor function when fused to the C-terminal truncated hPR or to the GAL4 DNA-binding domain. Mutations in the 12AA domain (aa 917-928) generate an hPR that is active in the presence of RU486. Furthermore, overexpression of the 12AA peptide activates the RU486-bound wild-type hPR without affecting progesterone-dependent activation. These results suggest that association of the 12AA repressor region with a corepressor might inactivate hPR activity when it is bound to RU486. We propose that binding of a hormone agonist to the receptor changes its conformation in the ligand-binding domain so that association with coactivator is promoted and activation of target gene occurs.