The present work focused on the potential involvement of selective adaptations of the androgen receptor pathway in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer. We defined the androgen receptor pathway by selecting 200 genes that were androgen responsive in prostate cancer cell lines and/or xenografts. This androgen receptor pathway gene signature was then used for profiling prostate cancer xenografts and patient-derived samples. Approximately half of the androgen receptor pathway genes were up-regulated in well-differentiated prostate cancer compared with normal prostate. Functionally distinct parts of the androgen receptor pathway were specifically down-regulated in high-grade cancers. Unexpectedly, metastases have down-regulated the vast majority of androgen receptor pathway genes. The significance of this progressive down-regulation of androgen receptor pathway genes was shown for a few androgen receptor-regulated genes. Lower mRNA expression of HERPUD1, STK39, DHCR24, and SOCS2 in primary prostate tumors was correlated with a higher incidence of metastases after radical prostatectomy. HERPUD1 mRNA expression predicted the occurrence of metastases almost perfectly. In vitro experiments showed that overexpression of the stress response gene HERPUD1 rapidly induces apoptosis. Based on the functions of the genes within the distinct subsets, we propose the following model. Enhanced androgen receptor activity is involved in the early stages of prostate cancer. In well-differentiated prostate cancer, the androgen receptor activates growth-promoting as well as growth-inhibiting and cell differentiation genes resulting in a low growth rate. The progression from low-grade to high-grade prostate carcinoma and metastases is mediated by a selective down-regulation of the androgen receptor target genes that inhibit proliferation, induce differentiation, or mediate apoptosis.