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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2007 May;321(2):526-35. Epub 2007 Feb 2.

Tamoxifen inhibits topoisomerases, depletes mitochondrial DNA, and triggers steatosis in mouse liver.

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  • 1Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U773, Equipe Mitochondries, Facultéde Médecine Xavier Bichat, 16 rue Henri Huchard, BP 416, F-75018 Paris, France.


Although tamoxifen can trigger steatohepatitis, the mechanism of steatosis is unclear. We hypothesized that this DNA-intercalating, cationic amphiphilic drug could accumulate within mitochondria to impair fatty acid oxidation, respiration, and mitochondrial DNA relaxation and synthesis. We studied the in vitro effects of tamoxifen on topoisomerases and mouse liver mitochondria and its in vivo hepatic effects in mice treated for 1 to 28 days with a daily dose of tamoxifen reproducing the plasma concentrations observed in humans. In vitro, tamoxifen inhibited topoisomerase-mediated plasmid DNA relaxation. It accumulated 40-fold inside mitochondria and inhibited both respiration and fatty acid oxidation. In vivo, a single dose of tamoxifen inhibited palmitic acid oxidation and hepatic lipoprotein secretion. Tamoxifen administration also decreased mitochondrial DNA synthesis and progressively depleted hepatic mitochondrial DNA, down to 40% of control values at 28 days. The decrease in mitochondrial DNA-encoded respiratory complexes sensitized mitochondria to the inhibitory effects of tamoxifen on mitochondrial respiration. Hepatic steatosis was absent at 5 days, mild at 12 days, and moderate at 28 days. The fatty acid synthase protein was normally expressed at 12 days but was decreased by 52% at 28 days. In conclusion, tamoxifen decreases hepatic triglyceride secretion, and it accumulates electrophoretically in mitochondria, where it impairs beta-oxidation and respiration. Tamoxifen also inhibits topoisomerases and mitochondrial DNA synthesis and progressively depletes hepatic mitochondrial DNA in vivo. These combined effects could decrease fat removal from the liver, thus causing hepatic steatosis despite a secondary down-regulation of hepatic fatty acid synthase expression.

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