The Octopus vulgaris Estrogen Receptor Is a Constitutive Transcriptional Activator: Evolutionary and Functional Implications

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Steroid hormones such as estrogens and androgens are important regulators of reproduction, physiology, and development in a variety of animal taxa, including vertebrates and mollusks. Steroid hormone receptors, which mediate the classic cellular responses to these hormones, were thought to be vertebrate specific, which left the molecular mechanisms of steroid action in invertebrates unresolved. Recently an estrogen receptor (ER) ortholog was isolated from the sea hare Aplysia californica, but the functional significance of the receptor was unclear because estrogens and other steroids are not known to be important in that species. Furthermore, the Aplysia ER was found to be a constitutive transcriptional activator, but it was unclear whether the estrogen independence of the ER was an Aplysia-specific novelty or a more ancient character general to the mollusks. Here we report on the isolation and functional characterization of the first ER ortholog from an invertebrate in which estrogens are produced and play an apparent role, the cephalopod Octopus vulgaris. We show that the Octopus ER is a strong constitutive transcriptional activator from canonical estrogen response elements. The receptor does not bind estradiol and is unresponsive to estrogens and other vertebrate steroid hormones. These characteristics are similar to those observed with the Aplysia ER and support the hypothesis that the evolving ER gained constitutive activity deep in the mollusk lineage. The apparent reproductive role of estrogens in Octopus and other mollusks is unlikely to be mediated by the ER and may take place through an ancient, non-ER-mediated pathway.

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