The rat estrogen receptor (ER) exists as two subtypes, ERα and ERβ, which differ in the C-terminal ligand binding domain and in the N-terminal transactivation domain. In this study we investigated the messenger RNA expression of both ER subtypes in rat tissues by RT-PCR and compared the ligand binding specificity of the ER subtypes. Saturation ligand binding analysis of in vitro synthesized human ERα and rat ERβ protein revealed a single binding component for 16α-iodo-17β-estradiol with high affinity [dissociation constant (K(d)) = 0.1 nM for ERα protein and 0.4 nM for ERβ protein]. Most estrogenic substances or estrogenic antagonists compete with 16α-[125I]iodo-17β-estradiol for binding to both ER subtypes in a very similar preference and degree; that is, diethylstilbestrol > hexestrol > dienestrol > 4-OH-tamoxifen > 17β-estradiol > coumestrol, ICI-164384 > estrone, 17α-estradiol > nafoxidine, moxestrol > clomifene > estriol, 4-OH- estradiol > tamoxifen, 2-OH-estradiol, 5-androstene-3β,17β-diol, genistein for the ERα protein and dienestrol > 4-OH-tamoxifen > diethylstilbestrol > hexestrol > coumestrol, ICI-164384 > 17β-estradiol > estrone, genistein > estriol > nafoxidine, 5-androstene-3β,17β-diol > 17α-estradiol, clomifene, 2-OH-estradiol > 4-OH-estradiol, tamoxifen, moxestrol for the ERβ protein. The rat tissue distribution and/or the relative level of ERα and ERβ expression seems to be quite different, i.e. moderate to high expression in uterus, testis, pituitary, ovary, kidney, epididymis, and adrenal for ERα and prostate, ovary, lung, bladder, brain, uterus, and testis for ERβ. The described differences between the ER subtypes in relative ligand binding affinity and tissue distribution could contribute to the selective action of ER agonists and antagonists in different tissues.
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