Environmental phthalate monoesters activate pregnane X receptor-mediated transcription

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Phthalate esters, widely used as plasticizers in the manufacture of products made of polyvinyl chloride, induce reproductive and developmental toxicities in rodents. The mechanism that underlies these effects of phthalate exposure, including the potential role of members of the nuclear receptor superfamily, is not known. The present study investigates the effects of phthalates on the pregnane X receptor (PXR), which mediates the induction of enzymes involved in steroid metabolism and xenobiotic detoxification. The ability of phthalate monoesters to activate PXR-mediated transcription was assayed in a HepG2 cell reporter assay following transfection with mouse PXR (mPXR), human PXR (hPXR), or the hPXR allelic variants V140M, D163G, and A370T. Mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP) increased the transcriptional activity of both mPXR and hPXR (5- and 15-fold, respectively) with EC50 values of 7–8 μM. mPXR and hPXR were also activated by monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP, up to 5- to 6-fold) but were unresponsive to monomethyl phthalate and mono-n-butyl phthalate (M(n)BP) at the highest concentrations tested (300 μM). hPXR-V140M and hPXR-A370T exhibited patterns of phthalate responses similar to the wild-type receptor. By contrast, hPXR-D163G was unresponsive to all phthalate monoesters tested. Further studies revealed that hPXR-D163G did respond to rifampicin, but required approximately 40-fold higher concentrations than wild-type receptor, suggesting that the ligand-binding domain D163G variant has impaired ligand-binding activity. The responsiveness of PXR to activation by phthalate monoesters demonstrated here suggests that these ubiquitous environmental chemicals may, in part, exhibit their endocrine disruptor activities by altering PXR-regulated steroid hormone metabolism with potential adverse health effects in exposed individuals.

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