Problems for risk assessment of endocrine-active estrogenic compounds

Stephen H. Safe, Lea Pallaroni, Kyungsil Yoon, Kevin Gaido, Susan Ross, Donald McDonnell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Estrogenic industrial compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA) and nonylphenol typically bind estrogen receptor (ER) α and ERβ and induce transactivation of estrogen-responsive/reporter genes, but their potencies are usually ≥ 1000-fold lower than observed 17β-estradiol. Risk assesment of estrogenic compounds on the basis of their potencies in simple reporter gene or binding assays may be inappropriate. For example, selective ER modulators (SERMs) represent another class of synthetic estrogens being developed for treatment hormone-dependent problems. SERMs differentially activate wild-type ERα and variant forms and expressing activation function 1 (ER-AF1) and AF2 (ER-AF2) in human HepG2 hepatoma cells transfected with an estrogen-responsive complement C3 promoter-luciferase construct, and these in vitro differences reflect their unique in vivo biologies. The HepG2 cell assay has also been used in our laboratories to investigate the estrogenic activities of the following structurally diverse synthetic and phytoestrogens: 4′ -hydroxytamoxifen; BPA; 2′, 4′, 6′ -trichloro-4-biphenylol; 2′, 3′, 4′, 5′ -tetrachloro-4-biphenylol; p-t-octylphenol; p-nonylphenol; naringenin; kepone; resveratrol; and 2,2-bis(p-hydroxyphenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane. The results show that synthetic and phytoestrogens are weakly estrogenic but induce distinct patterns of ER agonist/antagonist activities that are cell context- and promoter-dependent, suggesting that these compounds will induce tissue-specific in vivo ER agonist or antagonist activities. These results suggest that other receptors, such as the hydrocarbon receptor, that also bind structurally diverse ligands may exhibit unique response in vivo that are not predicted by standard in vitro bioassays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-929
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue numberSUPPL. 6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002


  • Agonists
  • Antagonists
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Estrogens
  • Structure-activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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