Environmentally persistent alkylphenolic compounds are estrogenic

Endocrinology. 1994 Jul;135(1):175-82. doi: 10.1210/endo.135.1.8013351.


We show that a number of alkylphenolic compounds, used in a variety of commercial products and found in river water, are estrogenic in fish, birds, and mammals. 4-Octylphenol (OP), 4-nonylphenol, 4-nonylphenoxycarboxylic acid, and 4-nonylphenoldiethoxylate were each capable of stimulating vitellogenin gene expression in trout hepatocytes, gene transcription in transfected cells, and the growth of breast cancer cell lines. The most potent of the chemicals is OP, which was able to stimulate these biological responses to a similar extent as 17 beta-estradiol itself, albeit at a 1000-fold greater concentration. The action of alkylphenols is mediated by the estrogen receptor, as their effects depended on its presence and was blocked by estrogen antagonists. OP, 4-nonylphenol, and 4-nonylphenoxycarboxylic acid appear to possess intrinsic estrogenic activity, because they compete for binding to the estrogen receptor. Moreover, it is likely that they interact with a similar region of the hormone-binding domain as 17 beta-estradiol, because the mutant receptor G-525R, which is defective in estrogen binding, is also insensitive to OP. Like 17 beta-estradiol, OP is capable of stimulating the activity of both transcriptional activation functions, TAF-1 and TAF-2, in the receptor, as judged by analyzing the activity of the wild-type and mutant receptors in transiently transfected cells. The significance of our results will depend to a large extent on the degree of exposure of wildlife and humans to these estrogenic alkylphenolic compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Environment
  • Estradiol / metabolism
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / physiology
  • Phenols / metabolism
  • Phenols / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Trout / genetics
  • Vitellogenins / genetics


  • Estrogens
  • Phenols
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Vitellogenins
  • Estradiol