Indolo[3, 2-b]carbazole: A dietary-derived factor that exhibits both antiestrogenic and estrogenic activity

Hong Liu, Mark Wormke, Stephen H. Safe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Background: Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and related compounds have been identified in vegetables of the Brassica genus. I3C and its acid-derived condensation product, indolo[3, 2-b]car-bazole (ICZ), bind to the aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor and induce CYP1A1/1A2 gene expression in both in vivo and in vitro models. I3C also inhibits mammary tumor development in rodent models. Purpose: The major focus of this study was to investigate the induction of CYP1A1-dependent activity and antiestrogenic effects of ICZ in the MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line and determine if induction of CYP1A1 is required for observed antiestrogenic responses. Methods: The induction of CYP1A1 in MCF-7 cells was determined by measuring time- and concentration-dependent changes in ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) activity in response to ICZ treatment. The effects of ICZ on occupied nuclear estrogen receptor (ER) levels and inhibition of estrogen (17β-estradiol [E2])-induced cell proliferation, [3H]thymidine uptake, secretion of the 52-kd protein, and nuclear progesterone receptor (PR) levels were also measured. Chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) activity was assayed in MCF-7 cells transiently transfected with an estrogen-responsive vit-CAT plasmid. Competitive binding to rat cytosolic ER was also examined. Results: ICZ (≥10 nM) induced CYP1A1 in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. This compound also elicited a diverse spectrum of antiestrogenic responses, including inhibition of E2-induced cell proliferation, [3H]thymidine uptake, occupied nuclear PR binding, and CAT activity in cells transfected with the estrogen-responsive vit-CAT plasmid. In nuclear extracts from ICZ-treated cells, there was a decrease in ER levels and binding to an estrogen-responsive element in a gel shift assay. I3C also decreased nuclear ER binding in MCF-7 cells. ICZ bound with low affinity to the ER and exhibited weak estrogen-like activity. Conclusions: Like other Ah receptor agonists, ICZ is antiestrogenic in human breast cancer cells, and this activity is consistent with the inhibitory activity of I3C on mammary tumor formation in rodents. ICZ-induced antiestrogenic responses can be observed at times or concentrations in which EROD activity is unchanged, indicating an interaction between the Ah receptor and ER-mediated endocrine pathways that is independent of P450-induced hormone metabolism. ICZ also is a weak estrogen in MCF-7 cells and binds to the ER. Implications: The current focus on the role of dietary and environmental estrogens in human disease should take into account the possible contra-active effects of Ah receptor agonists such as 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), ICZ, I3C, and related compounds that exhibit antiestrogenic activity. [J Natl Cancer Inst 86: 1758-1765, 1994]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1758-1765
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 7 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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