Two natural products,trans-phytol and (22E)-ergosta-6,9,22-triene-3β,5α,8α-triol, inhibit the biosynthesis of estrogen in human ovarian granulosa cells by aromatase (CYP19)

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Aromatase is the only enzyme in vertebrates to catalyze the biosynthesis of estrogens. Although inhibitors of aromatase have been developed for the treatment of estrogen-dependent breast cancer, the whole-body inhibition of aromatase causes severe adverse effects. Thus, tissue-selective aromatase inhibitors are important for the treatment of estrogen-dependent cancers. In this study, 63 natural products with diverse structures were examined for their effects on estrogen biosynthesis in human ovarian granulosa-like KGN cells. Two compounds—trans-phytol (SA-20) and (22E)-ergosta-6,9,22-triene-3β,5α,8α-triol (SA-48)—were found to potently inhibit estrogen biosynthesis (IC50: 1 μM and 0.5 μM, respectively). Both compounds decreased aromatase mRNA and protein expression levels in KGN cells, but had no effect on the aromatase catalytic activity in aromatase-overexpressing HEK293A cells and recombinant expressed aromatase. The two compounds decreased the expression of aromatase promoter I.3/II. Neither compound affected intracellular cyclic AMP (cAMP) levels, but they inhibited the phosphorylation or protein expression of cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB). The effects of these two compounds on extracellular regulated kinase (ERK), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), and AKT/phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway were examined. Inhibition of p38 MAPK could be the mechanism underpinning the actions of these compounds. Our results suggests that natural products structurally similar to SA-20 and SA-48 may be a new source of tissue-selective aromatase modulators, and that p38 MAPK is important in the basal control of aromatase in ovarian granulosa cells. SA-20 and SA-48 warrant further investigation as new pharmaceutical tools for the prevention and treatment of estrogen-dependent cancers.

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