Xenoestrogens and the induction of proliferative effects in breast cancer cells via direct activation of oestrogen receptor alpha

Food Addit Contam. 2004 Feb;21(2):134-44. doi: 10.1080/02652030310001641177.


Environmental contamination with a variety of industrial products has been associated with developmental and reproductive abnormalities in wildlife species. Increasing evidence has suggested that bisphenol A (BPA) and 4-nonylphenol (NPH), two major endocrine-disrupting chemicals, might be responsible for adverse effects on humans as a consequence of ubiquitous use together with potential oestrogen-like activity. To provide insight into the oestrogen-like nature of BPA and NPH, their ability to activate a reporter gene construct via an oestrogen response element in the hormone-dependent breast cancer cell lines MCF7 and T47D was ascertained. Both compounds transactivated the endogenous oestrogen receptor (ER) alpha in a direct fashion since the anti-oestrogen 4-hydroxytamoxifen abolished the response. In addition, using steroid-receptor-negative HeLa cells engineered to express ERalpha and ERbeta and the hormone-binding domains of both ERalpha and ERbeta, BPA and NPH confirmed the direct transcriptional activity. Interestingly these properties were supported in MCF7 cells by the ability to autoregulate ERalpha expression as well as to induce its nuclear compartmentalization. We therefore evaluated by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction the expression of oestrogen-controlled genes such as cathepsin D and TFF1 (formerly pS2), which were increased by both chemicals tested. The agonistic effects exhibited in all assays performed prompted the evaluation of a more complex biological response such as the proliferation of MCF7 and T47D cells. The same concentration of xenoestrogens eliciting substantial transcriptional activity significantly stimulated the proliferation of both breast cancer cell lines, although with a reduced effectiveness with respect to the natural hormone 17beta-oestradiol. The results indicate that the biological action of environmental oestrogen such as BPA and NPH should be taken into account for the potential impact on human disease-like hormone-dependent breast cancer. However, further studies are needed to clarify their bioavailability and metabolism as well as whether compound mixtures could produce noticeable effects by synergistic activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cathepsin D / biosynthesis
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogen Receptor beta
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / pathology*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Proteins*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transcriptional Activation / drug effects
  • Transfection
  • Trefoil Factor-1
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogen Receptor beta
  • Estrogens
  • Peptides
  • Phenols
  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • TFF1 protein, human
  • Trefoil Factor-1
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Cathepsin D
  • 4-nonylphenol
  • bisphenol A