Unexpected hormonal activity of a catechol equine estrogen metabolite reveals reversible glutathione conjugation

Kuan Wei Peng, Minsun Chang, Yue Ting Wang, Zhican Wang, Zhihui Qin, Judy L. Bolton, Gregory R.J. Thatcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


4-Hydroxyequilenin (4-OHEN) is a major phase I metabolite of the equine estrogens present in widely prescribed hormone replacement formulations. 4-OHEN is autoxidized to an electrophilic o-quinone that has been shown to redox cycle, generating ROS, and to covalently modify proteins and DNA and thus potentially to act as a chemical carcinogen. To establish the ability of 4-OHEN to act as a hormonal carcinogen at the estrogen receptor (ER), estrogen responsive gene expression and proliferation were studied in ER(+) breast cancer cells. Recruitment by 4-OHEN of ER to estrogen responsive elements (ERE) of DNA in MCF-7 cells was also studied and observed. 4-OHEN was a potent estrogen, with additional weak activity associated with binding to the arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR). The potency of 4-OHEN toward classical ERα mediated activity was unexpected given the reported rapid autoxidation and trapping of the resultant quinone by GSH. Addition of thiols to cell cultures did not attenuate the estrogenic activity of 4-OHEN, and preformed thiol conjugates added to cell incubations only marginally reduced ERE-luciferase induction. On reaction of the 4OHEN-GSH conjugate with NADPH, 4-OHEN was observed to be regenerated at a rate dependent upon NADPH concentration, indicating that intracellular nonenzymatic and enzymatic regeneration of 4-OHEN accounts for the observed estrogenic activity of 4-OHEN. 4-OHEN is therefore capable of inducing chemical and hormonal pathways that may contribute to estrogen-dependent carcinogenesis, and trapping by cellular thiols does not provide a mechanism of termination of these pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1374-1383
Number of pages10
JournalChemical Research in Toxicology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 16 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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