Editor's Highlight: Transcriptome Profiling Reveals Bisphenol A Alternatives Activate Estrogen Receptor Alpha in Human Breast Cancer Cells

Toxicol Sci. 2017 Aug 1;158(2):431-443. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfx101.


Plasticizers with estrogenic activity, such as bisphenol A (BPA), have potential adverse health effects in humans. Due to mounting evidence of these health effects, BPA is being phased out and replaced by other bisphenol variants in "BPA-free" products. We have compared estrogenic activity of BPA with 6 bisphenol analogues [bisphenol S (BPS); bisphenol F (BPF); bisphenol AP (BPAP); bisphenol AF (BPAF); bisphenol Z (BPZ); bisphenol B (BPB)] in 3 human breast cancer cell lines. Estrogenicity was assessed (10-11-10-4 M) by cell growth in an estrogen receptor (ER)-mediated cell proliferation assay, and by the induction of estrogen response element-mediated transcription in a luciferase assay. BPAF was the most potent bisphenol, followed by BPB > BPZ ∼ BPA > BPF ∼ BPAP > BPS. The addition of ICI 182,780 antagonized the activation of ERs. Data mining of ToxCast high-throughput screening assays confirm our results but also show divergence in the sensitivities of the assays. Gene expression profiles were determined in MCF-7 cells by microarray analysis. The comparison of transcriptome profile alterations resulting from BPA alternatives with an ERα gene expression biomarker further indicates that all BPA alternatives act as ERα agonists in MCF-7 cells. These results were confirmed by Illumina-based RNA sequencing. In conclusion, BPA alternatives are not necessarily less estrogenic than BPA in human breast cancer cells. BPAF, BPB, and BPZ were more estrogenic than BPA. These findings point to the importance of better understanding the risk of adverse effects from exposure to BPA alternatives, including hormone-dependent breast cancer.

Keywords: bisphenol; cell culture; endocrine; estrogens; toxicogenomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzhydryl Compounds / chemistry
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / toxicity*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / agonists*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phenols / chemistry
  • Phenols / toxicity*
  • Transcriptome*


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Phenols
  • Luciferases
  • bisphenol A