Identifying environmental chemicals as agonists of the androgen receptor by using a quantitative high-throughput screening platform

Toxicology. 2017 Jun 15;385:48-58. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 May 4.


The androgen receptor (AR, NR3C4) is a nuclear receptor whose main function is acting as a transcription factor regulating gene expression for male sexual development and maintaining accessory sexual organ function. It is also a necessary component of female fertility by affecting the functionality of ovarian follicles and ovulation. Pathological processes involving AR include Kennedy's disease and Klinefelter's syndrome, as well as prostate, ovarian, and testicular cancer. Strict regulation of sex hormone signaling is required for normal reproductive organ development and function. Therefore, testing small molecules for their ability to modulate AR is a first step in identifying potential endocrine disruptors. We screened the Tox21 10K compound library in a quantitative high-throughput format to identify activators of AR using two reporter gene cell lines, AR β-lactamase (AR-bla) and AR-luciferase (AR-luc). Seventy-five compounds identified through the primary assay were characterized as potential agonists or inactives through confirmation screens and secondary assays. Biochemical binding and AR nuclear translocation assays were performed to confirm direct binding and activation of AR from these compounds. The top seventeen compounds identified were found to bind to AR, and sixteen of them translocated AR from the cytoplasm into the nucleus. Five potentially novel or not well-characterized AR agonists were discovered through primary and follow-up studies. We have identified multiple AR activators, including known AR agonists such as testosterone, as well as novel/not well-known compounds such as prulifloxacin. The information gained from the current study can be directly used to prioritize compounds for further in-depth toxicological evaluations, as well as their potential to disrupt the endocrine system via AR activation.

Keywords: Androgen receptor; Modulators; Tox21 10K compound library; Translocation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Genes, Reporter
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays*
  • Humans
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism*
  • beta-Lactamases / genetics


  • Androgens
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Luciferases
  • beta-Lactamases