Acetyl tributyl citrate, the most widely used phthalate substitute plasticizer, induces cytochrome p450 3a through steroid and xenobiotic receptor

Toxicol Sci. 2011 Oct;123(2):460-70. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr178. Epub 2011 Jul 8.


Steroid and xenobiotic receptor (SXR) is activated by endogenous and exogenous chemicals including steroids, bile acids, and prescription drugs. SXR is highly expressed in the liver and intestine, where it regulates cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4), which in turn controls xenobiotic and endogenous steroid hormone metabolism. However, it is unclear whether Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved plasticizers exert such activity. In the present study, we evaluated the effects of FDA-approved plasticizers on SXR-mediated transcription in vitro by luciferase reporter, SXR-coactivator interaction, quantitative real-time PCR analysis of CYP3A4 expression, CYP3A4 enzyme activity assays, and SXR knockdown. Rats, treated with gavage and intraperitoneal injection of compounds, were examined for CYP3A1 expression in vivo. We found that four of eight FDA-approved plasticizers increased SXR-mediated transcription. In particular, acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC), an industrial plasticizer widely used in products such as food wrap, vinyl toys, and pharmaceutical excipients, strongly activated human and rat SXR. ATBC increased CYP3A4 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels and enzyme activity in the human intestinal cells but not in human liver cells. Similarly, CYP3A1 mRNA levels were increased in the intestine but not the liver of ATBC-treated rats. These in vitro and in vivo results suggest that ATBC specifically induces CYP3A in the intestine by activating SXR. We suggest that ATBC-containing products be used cautiously because they may alter metabolism of endogenous steroid hormones and prescription drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Citrates / toxicity*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A / biosynthesis*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / biosynthesis*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / enzymology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Plasticizers / toxicity*
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger / drug effects
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Steroid / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics


  • Citrates
  • Plasticizers
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • 2-acetyltributylcitrate
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Cyp3a2 protein, rat
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • CYP3A4 protein, human