Di-n-butyl phthalate activates constitutive androstane receptor and pregnane X receptor and enhances the expression of steroid-metabolizing enzymes in the liver of rat fetuses

Toxicol Sci. 2005 Aug;86(2):281-90. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfi204. Epub 2005 May 18.


The plasticizer di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) is a reproductive toxicant in rodents. Exposure to DBP in utero at high doses alters early reproductive development in male rats. Di-n-butyl phthalate also affects hepatic and extrahepatic enzymes. The objectives of this study were to determine the responsiveness of steroid-metabolizing enzymes in fetal liver to DBP and to investigate the potential of DBP to activate nuclear receptors that regulate the expression of liver enzymes. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were orally dosed with DBP at levels of 10, 50, or 500 mg/kg/day from gestation days 12 to 19; maternal and fetal liver samples were collected on day 19 for analyses. Increased protein and mRNA levels of CYP 2B1, CYP 3A1, and CYP 4A1 were found in both maternal and fetal liver in the 500-mg dose group. Di-n-butyl phthalate at high doses also caused an increase in the mRNA of hepatic estrogen sulfotransferase and UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 2B1 in the dams but not in the fetuses. Xenobiotic induction of CYP3A1 and 2B1 is known to be mediated by the nuclear hormone receptors pregnane X receptor (PXR) and constitutive androstane receptor (CAR). In vitro transcriptional activation assays showed that DBP activates both PXR and CAR. The main DBP metabolite, mono-butyl-phthalate (MBP) did not interact strongly with either CAR or PXR. These data indicate that hepatic steroid- and xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes are susceptible to DBP induction at the fetal stage; such effects on enzyme expression are likely mediated by xenobiotic-responsive transcriptional factors, including CAR and PXR. Our study shows that DBP is broadly reactive with multiple pathways involved in maintaining steroid and lipid homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Dibutyl Phthalate / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Fetus / enzymology
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / embryology
  • Liver / enzymology
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • PPAR alpha / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • PPAR alpha
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Transcription Factors
  • Dibutyl Phthalate
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System