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Douglas A Gibson and Philippa T K Saunders

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) are ubiquitous and persistent compounds that have the capacity to interfere with normal endocrine homoeostasis. The female reproductive tract is exquisitely sensitive to the action of sex steroids, and oestrogens play a key role in normal reproductive function. Malignancies of the female reproductive tract are the fourth most common cancer in women, with endometrial cancer accounting for most cases. Established risk factors for development of endometrial cancer include high BMI and exposure to oestrogens or synthetic compounds such as tamoxifen. Studies on cell and animal models have provided evidence that many EDC can bind oestrogen receptors and highlighted early life exposure as a window of risk for adverse lifelong effects on the reproductive system. The most robust evidence for a link between early life exposure to EDC and adverse reproductive health has come from studies on women who were exposed in utero to diethylstilbestrol. Demonstration that EDC can alter expression of members of the HOX gene cluster highlights one pathway that might be vulnerable to their actions. In summary, evidence for a direct link between EDC exposure and cancers of the reproductive system is currently incomplete. It will be challenging to attribute causality to any single EDC when exposure and development of malignancy may be separated by many years and influenced by lifestyle factors such as diet (a source of phytoestrogens) and adiposity. This review considers some of the evidence collected to date.

Free access

Douglas A Gibson, Ioannis Simitsidellis, Frances Collins, and Philippa T K Saunders

Endometrial cancer (EC) and ovarian cancer are common gynaecological malignancies. The impact of androgen action in these cancers is poorly understood; however, there is emerging evidence to suggest that targeting androgen signalling may be of therapeutic benefit. Epidemiological evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of EC associated with exposure to elevated levels of androgens, and genetic variants in genes related to both androgen biosynthesis and action are associated with an increased risk of both EC and ovarian cancer. Androgen receptors (ARs) may be a potential therapeutic target in EC due to reported anti-proliferative activities of androgens. By contrast, androgens may promote growth of some ovarian cancers and anti-androgen therapy has been proposed. Introduction of new therapies targeting ARs expressed in EC or ovarian cancer will require a much greater understanding of the impacts of cell context-specific AR-dependent signalling and how ARs can crosstalk with other steroid receptors during progression of disease. This review considers the evidence that androgens may be important in the aetiology of EC and ovarian cancer with discussion of evidence for androgen action in normal and malignant endometrial and ovarian tissue.

Open access

Douglas A Gibson, Frances Collins, Fiona L Cousins, Arantza Esnal Zufiaurre, and Philippa T K Saunders

Endometrial cancer (EC) is the most common gynaecological malignancy. Obesity is a major risk factor for EC and is associated with elevated cholesterol. 27-hydroxycholesterol (27HC) is a cholesterol metabolite that functions as an endogenous agonist for Liver X receptor (LXR) and a selective oestrogen receptor modulator (SERM). Exposure to oestrogenic ligands increases risk of developing EC; however, the impact of 27HC on EC is unknown. Samples of stage 1 EC (n = 126) were collected from postmenopausal women undergoing hysterectomy. Expression of LXRs (NR1H3, LXRα; NR1H2, LXRβ) and enzymes required for the synthesis (CYP27A1) or breakdown (CYP7B1) of 27HC were detected in all grades of EC. Cell lines originating from well-, moderate- and poorly-differentiated ECs (Ishikawa, RL95, MFE 280 respectively) were used to assess the impact of 27HC or the LXR agonist GW3965 on proliferation or expression of a luciferase reporter gene under the control of LXR- or ER-dependent promoters (LXRE, ERE). Incubation with 27HC or GW3965 increased transcription via LXRE in Ishikawa, RL95 and MFE 280 cells (P < 0.01). 27HC selectively activated ER-dependent transcription (P < 0.001) in Ishikawa cells and promoted proliferation of both Ishikawa and RL95 cells (P < 0.001). In MFE 280 cells, 27HC did not alter proliferation but selective targeting of LXR with GW3965 significantly reduced cell proliferation (P < 0.0001). These novel results suggest that 27HC can contribute to risk of EC by promoting proliferation of endometrial cancer epithelial cells and highlight LXR as a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of advanced disease.

Open access

Frances Collins, Nozomi Itani, Arantza Esnal-Zufiaurre, Douglas A Gibson, Carol Fitzgerald, and Philippa T K Saunders

Endometrial cancer is a common gynaeological malignancy: life time exposure to oestrogen is a key risk factor. Oestrogen action is mediated by receptors encoded by ESR1 (ERα) and ESR2 (ERβ): ERα plays a key role in regulating endometrial cell proliferation. A truncated splice variant isoform (ERβ5) encoded by ESR2 is highly expressed in cancers. This study explored whether ERβ5 alters oestrogen responsiveness of endometrial epithelial cells. Immunhistochemistry profiling of human endometrial cancer tissue biopsies identified epithelial cells co-expressing ERβ5 and ERα in stage I endometrial adenocarcinomas and post menopausal endometrium. Induced co-expression of ERβ5 in ERαpos endometrial cancer cells (Ishikawa) significantly increased ligand-dependent activation of an ERE-luciferase reporter stimulated by either E2 or the ERα-selective agonist 1,3,5-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-4-propyl-1H-pyrazole (PPT) compared to untransfected cells. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) analysis of tagged yellow fluorescent protein (YFP)-ERβ5 transfected into Ishikawa cells revealed that incubation with E2 induced a transient reduction in intra-nuclear mobility characterised by punctate protein redistribution which phenocopied the behaviour of ERα following ligand activation with E2. In ERαneg MDA-MD-231 breast cancer cells, there was no E2-dependent change in mobility of YFP-ERβ5 and no activation of the ERE reporter in cells expressing ERβ5. In conclusion, we demonstrate that ERβ5 can act as heterodimeric partner to ERα in Ishikawa cells and increases their sensitivity to E2. We speculate that expression of ERβ5 in endometrial epithelial cells may increase the risk of malignant transformation and suggest that immunostaining for ERβ5 should be included in diagnostic assessment of women with early grade cancers.