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Keywords:

  • parabens;
  • breast cancer cells;
  • environmental oestrogen;
  • xenoestrogen;
  • mouse uterus

Abstract

The alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) are used widely as preservatives in foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to which the human population is exposed. Recent studies have reported that methylparaben, ethylparaben, n-propylparaben and n-butylparaben all possess oestrogenic activity in several in vitro assays and in animal models in vivo. This study reports on the oestrogenic activity of isobutylparaben in a panel of assays in vitro and in vivo. Isobutylparaben was able to displace [3H]oestradiol from cytosolic oestrogen receptor α of MCF7 human breast cancer cells by 81% at 100 000-fold molar excess. Using a clonal line of MCF7 cells containing a stably transfected oestrogen-responsive ERE-CAT reporter gene, CAT gene expression could be increased by isobutylparaben such that the magnitude of the response was the same at 10−5 M isobutylparaben as with 10−8 M 17β-oestradiol. Isobutylparaben could also increase expression of the endogenous oestrogen-responsive pS2 gene in MCF7 cells and maximal expression at 10−5 M isobutylparaben could be inhibited with the anti-oestrogen ICI 182 780. The proliferation of two oestrogen-dependent human breast cancer cell lines MCF7 and ZR-75-1 could be increased with isobutylparaben such that at concentrations of 10−5 M the proliferation response was of the same magnitude as with 10−8 M 17β-oestradiol. Evidence for oestrogen receptor mediation of proliferation effects was provided by the inability of isobutylparaben to influence the growth of oestrogen-unresponsive MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells and by the ability of the anti-oestrogen ICI 182 780 to inhibit the isobutylparaben effects on MCF7 cell growth. The proliferation response to 10−10 M 17β-oestradiol was not antagonized with isobutylparaben at any concentration from 10−9 M to 10−4 M in either MCF7 or ZR-75-1 cells. Finally, subcutaneous administration of isobutylparaben was able to increase the uterine weight in the immature mouse after three daily doses of 1.2 or 12.0 mg per mouse. Previous work using linear-alkyl-chain parabens has shown that oestrogenic activity increases with alkyl chain length from methylparaben to n-butylparaben. The results here show that branching of the alkyl chain to isobutylparaben increases oestrogenic activity beyond that of the equivalent length linear alkyl chain in n-butylparaben. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.