Estrogen Receptor Binding to Xeno/Phyto Estrogens

Submitted by Patricia B. O'Hara

FRET and single molecule spectroscopy can be used to study the details of cofactor binding and regulation in the ER.  Fluorescence Polarization Spectroscopy can be used to measure the extent to which various pesticides, pesticide metabolites, and environmental toxins can displace a fluorescent estrogen analogue from the estrogen receptor.  Many models have been proposed for the deleterious effects of certain exogenous factors on steroid hormone receptor functions.  One of them is the inadvertent interference of these agents that results from their binding to the rather non-selective estrogen receptor.  We have compared the binding of these substances to estrogen receptors alpha (common form of receptor) and beta (form of receptor found in neurological tissue) in an attempt to understand the factors that lead to enhanced affinity.

Several students have worked in this area in their senior honors research in the last few years.  Waleed Babar '21 plans to reopen the yeast expression using a new kit available for checking the functional activity of the ER - if he manages to get back to the US from Pakistan in face of the most recent Immigration restrictions.  Kathleen Krieg '20 did a wonderful thesis on plasticizers binding to the ER despite being robbed of the last month of her experiments by the shutdown of the College due to the COVID-19 virus.  Shazad  Anwar '14 continued work started by Walter Peterson '11 looking at regulation of the ER by calmodulin by using single molecule spectroscopy and FRET. Jackie Watson '12 adapted an assay to test for gene expression using a GFP based yeast expression.  Catie Knuff '10 perfected a polarization assay for ER binding and Andrew Newman '10 explored regulation of binding coactivators SRC-1 and SRC-3 in the ER.  Suzie Luft '08 examined estrogen receptor beta with a series of compounds derived from a natural pesticide pyrethroid as described in her poster below.  Eric Glustrom '07, a neuroscience major, studied both in vivo and in vitro responses of estrogen receptor alpha to DDT metabolites.  Summer and high school students who assisted with this work were Ian Mahoney '12, Afua Nti '12, Elias Aba Milki '10, Hannah Varmer ARHS '10.  A manuscript on this work is being prepared for submission to Molecular Endocrinology.

Kat Krieg '20 Presentation for her BCBP major

Due to the restrictions on assembly in 2020 - all thesis presentations were done online.  Here is Kat's Presentation

Regulation of Estrogen Receptor Dimerization by Calmodulin - Peterson '11 and Anwar '14


Anwar, S., Peterson, J.W., Hebda, J.A., O’Hara, P.B. Biophysical Society Meeting (2014) San Fran Fluorescent Studies of Calmodulin Regulation of Myosin Light Chain Kinase and ER-a

In this study, the binding interactions of two calmodulin-target complexes are explored. Two peptides, representing the calmodulin binding domains of skeletal muscle myosin light chain kinase and estrogen receptor-alpha, and their interactions with both wild-type calmodulin and double mutant T34C T110C calmodulin were compared by fluorescence spectroscopy and fluorescence polarization. Both types of calmodulin were shown to bind the two peptides with dissociation constants, Kd, of <10-6 M.

Additionally, double mutant calmodulin T34C T110C was covalently tagged with a FRET dye pair, Alexa Fluor 555 and Alexa Fluor 647. The effects of labeled calmodulin interactions with the two peptides on the fluorescence emission peaks of the labeled calmodulin were studied. 

GFP Expression of ER Activity - J.Watson '12


Estrogen receptors (ERα  and ER β ) are ligand-binding transcription factors activated by the hormone 17-β estradiol. Ligand binding triggers ER dimerization, translocation of the receptor from the cytoplasm into the nucleus and eventually activation of the genes under control of ER. Studies have revealed a role for estrogen receptors in male and female sexual development, reproductive functions, bone metabolism and regulation of neuroendocrine and cardiovascular systems. ER is also known to bind to other non-native ligands known in pharmacology as receptor agonists or antagonists. Agonists provoke a biological response when bound to the receptor; antagonists inhibit a biological response when bound. Our lab is interested in the promiscuous binding of the estrogen receptor and its ability to activate different genes in different tissues. Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) assays have previously been performed using ER to study ligand binding affinities for the receptor. However, this technique is unable to determine whether these ligands are agonists or antagonists and allow ER dimerization and gene activation. To investigate these phenomena, an activity assay that measures ER controlled gene expression has been developed which provides the opportunity to gain further insight into the functional activity in living systems. Recombinant yeast cells that express ERα use the green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter to determine whether ER α , in the presence of a particular ligand, has activated gene of expression. We have correlated the binding to agonist and antagonist behavior of several xeno and phyto estrgens.

Fluorescence Polarization to Measure Binding to ERα and ERβ - C. Knuff '10


Estrogen’s role in cell growth and proliferation has long been appreciated both in the normal development of secondary sexual characteristics and in diseased states in cancers of the breast, ovaries and uterus. We are beginning to appreciate estrogen’s expanded role in maintaining such diverse functions as the health of the central nervous system, bone density and cardiac health. Estrogen plays out its roles in varied tissues by binding to two major ligand activated nuclear receptors, estrogen receptor α (ER α) and estrogen receptor β (ER β). Though the ligand binding cavities of the two receptors differ by only two amino acids, the overall degree of homology between ER α and ER β is low. The body uses the receptor selectivity to its advantage by dispersing the receptors in varying ratios to different tissues.

Small molecules have been identified which bind to one or the other receptors with differing binding affinities. These selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) hold the potential to be pharmacologically effective in treating diseases specific to one type of ER while not affecting the other. For example, ER α and ER β are both present in breast tissue, and the ratio of ER β to ER α is being examined as one indicator in determining the likelihood of successful treatment of breast cancer by certain drugs. Here we use changes in the fluorescence polarization of a bound fluorescent estrogen homologue to calculate binding affinities for PPT and DPN, two SERMs, to ER α and ER β.  PPT binds selectively to ER α with a Ki of 47.9 ± 1.8 1 nM and DPN binds selectively to ER β with a Ki of 120 ± 2.4 nM.

Various synthetic compounds ubiquitous in the environment have been implicated as xenoestrogens, or chemicals that can bind to the ERs thus mimicking estrogen.  They have been linked to many health problems including various forms of cancer, sexual and developmental defects, reproductive abnormalities, and behavioral irregularities.  Because both ERs have large binding pockets, a diverse range of chemicals can act as xenoestrogens.  Though these chemicals are not as potent in binding as natural estrogen, the total xenoestrogen burden due to their ubiquity is cause for concern.   This study examined the binding of the plasticizer bisphenol A and three insecticides based on natural pyrethrum from plants: permethrin, fenvalerate and deltamethrin, with both ER α and ER β.  Bisphenol A is a chemical found in plastics and epoxy coating on cans, while the pyrethroids are used in agriculture, ranching and in household insecticides.  None of the pyrethroids were found to bind to ER α or ER β, while bisphenol A exhibited binding to ER α with a Ki of 14.1 ± 3.8 µM and to ER β with a Ki of 850 ± 23 nM. These studies have shown that the fluorescence polarization method can be a powerful tool in understanding the molecular nature of endocrine disruption. 

Investigating the Effects of Estrogen Cofactors on Ligand Binding Affinity - A. Newman '10

Using fluorescence polarization, the displacement of a fluorescent estrogen receptor ligand by estradiol (E2), the predominant human estrogen, from ER in the presence or absence of coactivator protein can be tracked over a range of polarizations. This is possible in solution without removing or filtering the ligand-receptor-cofactor complex because the fluorescent tracer molecule emits a unique signal depending on its apparent molecular weight – that is, whether or not the tracer is bound to the receptor. Plasmids encoding the nuclear receptor domain (NRD) of coactivators SRC-1 and SRC-3 were obtained and their encoded proteins were expressed and purified.

No effect of the addition of SRC-1 to the competitive binding assay with full-length ER-α was found, and the results from the same assay with full-length ER-β were inconclusive. Due to resource limitations, new fluorescent tracer molecules and plasmids encoding the ER ligand binding domains (LBDs) were obtained. Expression and purification yields of ER-LBDs were lower than those of SRC-NRDs and the new fluorophore and receptor preparations required reoptimization of the assay for the new reagents. Reoptimization was unsuccessful. Considerable work remains before this assay can reliably be used to investigate the interactions between estrogenic compounds, the estrogen receptors and their cofactors.

Pyrethrin Binding to Estrogen Receptor - S. Luft '08

Submitted by Patricia B. O'Hara

DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.12.2282

The ability of some manmade chemicals to interfere with the endocrine system has recently been the topic of much research.  Many of the chemicals under study have been applied to the environment as agricultural pesticides.  This study looks at the interactions between the estrogen receptor-β, which is a nuclear signaling protein, and four pyrethroid pesticides with the purpose of observing whether or not these chemicals can bind to the receptor.  The structures of the four pyrethroids, permethrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin and fenvalerate, are shown below.  A fluorescence polarization competitive binding assay was used to observe the effects of the pyrethroids on a complex of the estrogen receptor and a fluorescent estradiol-like ligand called fluormone.  Because this complex is large, it rotates slowly in solution and has a high polarization.  If a pyrethroid binds to the receptor, fluormone is displaced, and its fast rotation free in solution leads to a low polarization.  In this way, the ability of these four pyrethroids to bind the estrogen receptor-β was assessed.





Binding of DDT derivatives to ER - E. Glustrom '07

Submitted by Patricia B. O'Hara


The insecticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) was used heavily in the United States until its ban in 1972.  DDT, an organochloride compound, tends to accumulate in living systems and was found in the lipid tissue of over 99% of women even thirty years after its ban.  Methoxychlor, also an organochloride insecticide, largely replaced DDT and continues to be used to this day.   

Given the present exposure to the two insecticides, the estrogenicity of DDT, methoxychlor, and the insecticides’ metabolites should be investigated.  Studies show that the insecticides as well as their chlorinated metabolites are minimally estrogenic.  However, there is a dearth of research investigating the estrogenicity of the hydroxylated metabolites.  Several hydroxylated metabolites of DDT were isolated by Vernon Feil of North Dakota State University and generously shared for use in the present research.

The work presented here investigates the estrogenicity of DDT, methoxychlor, and their chlorinated and hydroxylated metabolites.  First, a competitive binding assay with a fluorescent estrogen analogue and the estrogen receptor tested the estrogenicity of the compounds in vitro.  The compounds were then administered to ovariectomized female rats to determine their ability to mimic estrogen in vivo by initiating estrus behavior.The findings suggest that methoxychlor and several of the metabolites, both hydroxylated and chlorinated, bind the estrogen receptor in vitro.  In the in vivo test, the same compounds only minimally mimicked estrogen indicating that they may be weakly estrogenic, partial agonists of the estrogen receptor, or perhaps antiestrogens.  The results presented here warrant further investigation if the estrogenicity of insecticides and their metabolites is to be fully understood.

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