Phthalates inhibit tamoxifen-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004 Dec;67(23-24):2025-35. doi: 10.1080/15287390490514750.


Environmental estrogens represent a class of compounds that can mimic the function or activity of the endogenous estrogen 17 -estradiol (E2). Phthalates including butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di(n-butyl) phthalate (DBP), and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) are used as plasticizers, and also widely used in food wraps and cosmetic formulations. Phthalates have been shown to mimic estrogen and are capable of binding to the estrogen receptor (ER). It has been demonstrated that estrogen promotes drug resistance to tamoxifen (TAM) in breast cancer. In order to further evaluate the potential role of the phthalates as environmental estrogens, the effect of phthalates was investigated on TAM-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Our results show that phthalates, BBP (100 M), DBP (10 M), and DEHP (10 M), significantly increased cell proliferation in MCF-7, but not in MDA-MB-231 cells. In addition, BBP, DBP, and DEHP mimicked estrogen in the inhibition of TAM-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 cells. Our data suggest that the inhibitory effect of phthalates on TAM-induced apoptosis involves an increase in intracellular Bcl-2 to Bax ratio. Given that the phthalates are widely used in cosmetics mainly for women, our findings that revealed the promoting effect of BBP, DBP, and DEHP on chemotherapeutic drug resistance to TAM in breast cancer may be of biological relevance.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cosmetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phthalic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Cosmetics
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Tamoxifen