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PLoS One. 2008 May 7;3(5):e2117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002117.

The herbicide atrazine activates endocrine gene networks via non-steroidal NR5A nuclear receptors in fish and mammalian cells.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.


Atrazine (ATR) remains a widely used broadleaf herbicide in the United States despite the fact that this s-chlorotriazine has been linked to reproductive abnormalities in fish and amphibians. Here, using zebrafish we report that environmentally relevant ATR concentrations elevated zcyp19a1 expression encoding aromatase (2.2 microg/L), and increased the ratio of female to male fish (22 microg/L). ATR selectively increased zcyp19a1, a known gene target of the nuclear receptor SF-1 (NR5A1), whereas zcyp19a2, which is estrogen responsive, remained unchanged. Remarkably, in mammalian cells ATR functions in a cell-specific manner to upregulate SF-1 targets and other genes critical for steroid synthesis and reproduction, including Cyp19A1, StAR, Cyp11A1, hCG, FSTL3, LHss, INHalpha, alphaGSU, and 11ss-HSD2. Our data appear to eliminate the possibility that ATR directly affects SF-1 DNA- or ligand-binding. Instead, we suggest that the stimulatory effects of ATR on the NR5A receptor subfamily (SF-1, LRH-1, and zff1d) are likely mediated by receptor phosphorylation, amplification of cAMP and PI3K signaling, and possibly an increase in the cAMP-responsive cellular kinase SGK-1, which is known to be upregulated in infertile women. Taken together, we propose that this pervasive and persistent environmental chemical alters hormone networks via convergence of NR5A activity and cAMP signaling, to potentially disrupt normal endocrine development and function in lower and higher vertebrates.

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