Estrogen-induced generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, gene damage, and estrogen-dependent cancers

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. Jun-Jul 2007;10(4):235-57. doi: 10.1080/15287390600974924.


In addition to the direct effect of estrogen on mitochondria and the redox cycling of catechol estrogen, estrogen-induced proinflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1beta) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), also generate reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RO/NS). Different cellular signaling pathways may operate in response to varying levels of estrogen-induced RO/NS, leading to genotoxic damage, cell apoptosis, or cell growth. At high levels of RO/NS, cells receiving genotoxic insults, if not repaired, may engage the apoptotic pathways. There is increasing evidence supporting that estrogen-induced alterations in the genome of cells is produced by oxidative attack. Furthermore, ROS generated by estrogen exposure and/or active metabolites of estrogen in combination with receptor-mediated proliferation of genetically damaged cells may be involved in tumor development. This view is supported by the findings of DNA modifications produced in vitro or in vivo by natural and synthetic estrogens in the target organs of cancer both in experimental models and in humans. Interaction of estrogen-induced oxidants and estrogen metabolites with DNA was shown to generate mutations in genes. Cotreatment with an inhibitor of IL-1beta and TNF-alpha synthesis, pentoxifylline, decreased stilbene estrogen-induced levels of myeloperoxidase (MPO), 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine formation, and gene mutations, and prevented stilbene estrogen-induced lesions. Stable MCF-7 clones overexpressing IL-1beta resulted in a high level of IL-1beta peptide secretion undergoing cell apoptosis, and an elevated level of p53 protein in response to high oxidative stress when compared to nontransfected cells, whereas MCF-7 clones overexpressing IL-1beta that resulted in a moderate level of IL-1beta secretion stimulated the clonal expansion of MCF-7 and TM3 cells. Estrogen-induced MCF-7 cell growth and cyclin D1 expression were suppressed by antioxidants and mitochondrial blockers. These studies support that in addition to ovarian estrogen-mediated ER signaling, mitogenic signals may also come from estrogen-induced RO/NS. Further validation of this concept that the concentration of the RO/NS within the cellular microenvironment determines its stimulatory or inhibitory growth signals as well as its genotoxic effects regulating the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors may result in novel preventive strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Estrogens / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Mutation / drug effects
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / genetics
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / physiopathology*
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Cytokines
  • Estrogens
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Receptors, Estrogen