Mechanisms of estrogen carcinogenesis: The role of E2/E1-quinone metabolites suggests new approaches to preventive intervention - A review

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Studies in hamsters, mice and rats have demonstrated that estradiol (E2), its interconvertible metabolite estrone (E1) and their catechol metabolites, in particular 4-hydroxy E2/E1, are carcinogenic in the kidney, uterus and mammary gland. Observational studies and clinical trials consistently show that sustained exposure to E2/E1 is associated with the development of sporadic breast cancer. The weight of evidence supports the contribution of two complementary pathways in the initiation, promotion and progression of breast cancer. One pathway involves activation of nuclear and cytoplasmic signaling pathways through the binding of estrogen to nuclear and membrane-bound estrogen receptors leading to increased cell proliferation. The other pathway involves the oxidative metabolism of E2/E1 to catechols and then reactive quinones that can contribute to oxidative DNA damage and form specific, mutagenic depurinating adducts with adenine and guanine which then in turn can serve as biomarkers for the occurrence of these processes. Both pathways can serve as portals to preventive intervention. Antiestrogens are used clinically to block receptor-mediated signaling to block tumor growth. Various chemopreventive agents such as sulforaphane (SFN) and resveratrol have been shown in cell culture to block oxidative metabolism of E2/E1 and thus prevent DNA damage. Pretreatment of MCF-7 and MCF-10F cells with and inhibitor of catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) followed by treatment with E2 or 4-OH E2 caused increased oxidative DNA damage (8-oxo-dG) and depurinating DNA adducts showing the importance of E2-catechol O-methylation by COMT as a protective pathway. E2 treatment of MCF-10A cells with E2 or 4-OH E2 caused an increase in E2-adenine and guanine adducts. Treatment with sulforaphane increased NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) and glutathione-S-transferase A1 (GSTA1) expression without affecting expression of catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) or cytochrome P450 1B1. Pretreatment with SFN decreased depurinating DNA adducts while increasing levels of 4-OCH3E1/2 and 4-OHE1/2-glutathione conjugates. Treatment of MCF-10F cells with E2 or 4-OH-E2 also caused increased depurinating DNA adducts and neoplastic transformation while pretreatment with resveratrol caused a reduction in adduct levels and neoplastic transformation. Increased levels of estrogen-quinone conjugates and DNA adducts have also been detected in urine of women at increased risk for and with breast cancer. These observations support the notion that targeting the estrogen/estrone metabolism pathway may be another way to reduce breast cancer risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-60
Number of pages5
Issue numberPart A
StatePublished - May 26 2015


  • Breast cancer
  • Chemoprevention
  • DNA damage
  • Estrogen
  • Estrogen-quinone adducts
  • Sulforaphane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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