Gene expression profiling for understanding chemical causation of biological effects for complex mixtures: a case study on estrogens

A. Filby, E. Santos, Karen Thorpe, G. Maack, C. Tyler

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Gene expression profiling offers considerable potential for identifying chemical causation of effects induced in exposures to complex mixtures, and for understanding the mechanistic basis for their phenotypic effects. We characterized gene expression responses in livers and gonads of fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) exposed (for 14–21 days) to estrogenic wastewater treatment works final effluents with varying potencies and assessed the extent to which these expression profiles mapped with those induced by individual steroid estrogens present in the effluents (17β-estradiol and 17α-ethinylestradiol) and, thus, were diagnostic of estrogen exposure. For these studies, we adopted a targeted approach (via real-time PCR) with a suite of 12 genes in liver and 21 genes in gonad known to play key roles in reproduction, growth and development (processes controlled by estrogens) and responses were compared with effects on phenotypic end points indicative of feminization. Gene responses to effluent were induced predominantly in a linear (monotonic) concentration-dependent manner but were complex with many genes responding differently between tissue types and sexes. The gene expression profiles for the estrogenic effluents and the individual steroid estrogens had many common features. There were marked differences in the profiles between the two effluents, however, that were not explained by differences in their estrogenic potencies, suggesting that these may have arisen as a consequence of differences in the contents of other chemicals, which may act directly or indirectly with the estrogen-response pathway to alter estrogen-induced gene expression. These data demonstrate that the patterns of gene expression induced by estrogenic effluents, although complex, can be diagnostic for some of the estrogens they contain and provide insights into the mechanistic basis for the phenotypic effects seen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8187-8194
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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