The Role of the Estrogen Receptor in DiEthylStilbestrol Toxicity

DiEthylStilbestrol studies – DES can induce neoplastic cell transformation, mutagenesis, irreversible binding to DNA and protein and unscheduled DNA synthesis

Estrogen receptor mechanism in uterine target cell. E represents estradiol but can also be substituted by DES. Cytosolic form ofreceptor (RC); activated cytosol receptor (Rc), nuclear receptor (Rn), progesterone receptor (PRc), glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), Korach, 1981.

1985 Study Abstract

The site and specificity of the tissue response to a toxicant are of central importance; it is in this area of Diethylstilbestrol (DES) toxicity that the estrogen receptor would appear to play its primary role. Compilation of the various sites of DES toxicity in humans and experimental animals indicates that lesions appear predominantly in estrogen responsive target tissues suggesting that the presence of the estrogen receptor in such target tissues may help govern the tissue specificity of the toxic insult. DES and many of its oxidative metabolites interact with high affinity with the estrogen receptor. Such an interaction may be responsible for localizing DES to target tissues. Autoradiographic and biochemical studies have supported the localization of radiolabeled DES in susceptible tissues. The intracellular mechanism of receptor binding of DES and certain metabolites could then result in mobilization of these compounds to the nucleus. Experimental evidence has shown that DES and a number of its metabolites are able to translocate receptor to the nucleus of uterine cells. Such an action by the receptor results in an increased probability of potential chemical interactions with the genome. The actual induction of a chemical lesion in the target cell may, at this point, proceed by non-receptor mediated mechanisms. For example, studies using in vitro cell culture systems which contain no estrogen receptors have shown that DES can induce neoplastic cell transformation, mutagenesis, irreversible binding to DNA and protein and unscheduled DNA synthesis. These results raise the possibility that a part of DES toxicity may follow pharmacologic principles established for chemical carcinogens. Following induction of the molecular lesion, the role of the receptor continues in this process by mediating increased protein synthesis and mitogenesis in responsive target tissues which ultimately permits a more extensive expression of the toxic effects. It has been demonstrated that DES is a potent mitogen in vivo in both uterine and pituitary tissues, subsequently, the lesion will perpetuate itself through this receptor mediated biological response. This is particularly important since a number of DES induced reproductive tract tumors are expressed only after additional estrogen exposure. While other tumors have been shown to be estrogen sensitive and will regress without continued estrogen stimulation. Therefore, it should be considered that the presence of the estrogen receptor and the estrogen receptor mediated biological responsiveness of a particular tissue are most important in explaining the specificity of DES toxicity.

  • The role of the estrogen receptor in diethylstilbestrol toxicity, NCBI, PMID: 3913404, Arch Toxicol Suppl. 1985;8:33-42.
  • Full study, springer, PDF.
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