Molecular mechanisms of estrogen action: Selective ligands and receptor pharmacology

Benita S. Katzenellenbogen, Inho Choi, Regis Delage-Mourroux, Tracy R. Ediger, Paolo G.V. Martini, Monica Montano, Jun Sun, Karen Weis, John A. Katzenellenbogen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Estrogens exert profound effects on the physiology of diverse target cells and these effects appear to be mediated by two estrogen receptor (ER) subtypes, ERα and ERβ. We have investigated how ER ligands, ranging from pure agonists to antagonists, interact with ERα and ERβ, and regulate their transcriptional activity on different genes. Mutational mapping-structure activity studies indicate that different residues of the ER ligand binding domain are involved in the recognition of structurally distinct estrogens and antiestrogens. We have identified from ligands of diverse structure, several particularly interesting ones that are high potency selective agonists via ERα and others that are full agonists through ERα while being full antagonists through ERβ. Antiestrogens such as hydroxytamoxifen, which are mixed agonist/antagonists through ERα, are pure antagonists through ERβ at estrogen response element-containing gene sites. Studies with ERα/β chimeric proteins reveal that tamoxifen agonism requires the activation function 1 region of ERα. Through two-hybrid assays, we have isolated an ER-specific coregulator that potentiates antiestrogen antagonist effectiveness and represses ER transcriptional activity. We have also focused on understanding the distinct pharmacologies of antiestrogen- and estrogen-regulated genes. Although antiestrogens are thought to largely act by antagonizing the actions of estrogens, we have found among several new ER-regulated genes, quinone reductase (QR), a detoxifying phase II antioxidant enzyme, that has its activity up-regulated by antiestrogens in an ER-dependent manner in breast cancer cells. This response is antagonized by estrogens, thus showing 'reversed pharmacology'. Increased QR activity by antiestrogens requires a functional ER (ERα or ERβ) and is, interestingly, mediated via the electrophile response element in the QR gene 5′ regulatory region. The up-regulation of QR may contribute to the beneficial effects of tamoxifen, raloxifene, and other antiestrogens in breast cancer prevention and treatment. Estrogens rapidly up-regulate expression of several genes associated with cell cytoarchitectural changes including NHE-RF, the sodium hydrogen exchanger regulatory factor, also known as EBP50. NHE-RF/EBP50 is enriched in microvilli, and may serve as a scaffold adaptor protein in regulating early changes in cell architecture and signal transduction events induced by estrogen. Analyses of the regulatory regions of these primary response genes, and the antioxidant and other signaling pathways involved, are providing considerable insight into the mechanisms by which ligands, that function as selective estrogen receptor modulators or SERMs, exert their marked effects on the activities and properties of target cells. The intriguing biology of estrogens in its diverse target cells is thus determined by the structure of the ligand, the ER subtype involved, the nature of the hormone-responsive gene promoter, and the character and balance of coactivators and corepressors that modulate the cellular response to the ER-ligand complex. The continuing development of ligands that function as selective estrogens or antiestrogens for ERα or ERβ should allow optimized tissue selectivity of these agents for menopausal hormone replacement therapy and the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-285
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 30 2000


  • Estrogen
  • Estrogen receptor pharmacology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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