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Mol Carcinog. 1997 Feb;18(2):107-14.

DDT mimicks estradiol stimulation of breast cancer cells to enter the cell cycle.

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Health Sciences Research Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, USA.


Estrogens play a critical role in the etiology of found breast cancer. Estradiol promotes the growth of breast cancer cells in vivo and in vitro. Exogenous estrogens in both the environment and in the human diet increase the growth of breast cancer cells in vitro. A role for xenoestrogens in breast cancer etiology has been proposed but remains controversial. We examined the effects of the xenoestrogenic pesticide 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(chlorophenyl)ethane (DDT) on estrogen-receptor (ER)-positive MCF-7 and T-47D human breast cancer cells as well as on ER-negative HS 578Bst breast cancer cells and rat liver cells. Estradiol and DDT were found to increase the growth of MCF-7 cells in the presence of insulin. The activity of cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk)2 increased in growth-arrested T-47D and MCF-7 cells treated with beta-estradiol or DDT. The steroidal antiestrogen ICI 182,780 prevented both growth and Cdk2 activation induced by estradiol or DDT. Increased phosphorylation of Cdk2 and the retinoblastoma protein (pRb1O5) was observed in ER-positive cells treated with DDT or estradiol. Cdk2 activity was not affected by DDT or estradiol in ER-negative HS 578Bst breast cancer cells or in rat liver epithelial cells. Cyclin D1 protein synthesis was increased by DDT and estradiol in MCF-7 cells. DDT and estradiol-induced ER-dependent transcriptional activation of estrogen response elements (EREs) in stably transfected MVLN cells, and ERE activation by low doses of DDT was increased by insulin. These findings suggest that DDT can stimulate breast cancer cells to enter into the cell cycle by directly affecting key regulatory elements. The relative potency of DDT in inducing cell-cycle progression appears to be only 100-300 times less than that of estradiol when measured in the presence of insulin. Therefore, the cancer risks associated with DDT exposure may be greater than first thought, especially when additional mitogenic stimuli are present.

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