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Y Qiu, CE Waters, AE Lewis, MJ Langman, and MC Eggo

Epidemiological studies of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy show a reduction in the risk of developing colon cancer, and animal studies using 17beta-oestradiol (E(2)) demonstrate a decreased incidence of chemically-induced colon cancer. Using the colon cancer cell line, COLO205, we found that E(2) induced a dose-dependent increase in DNA fragmentation and nuclear condensation, significant effects being seen at 10(-12 )mol/l. BSA-conjugated E(2), which cannot enter cells, was ineffective at inducing apoptosis in COLO205 cells, indicating that E(2) was not acting through a cell-membrane receptor. E(2) did not induce the morphological changes characteristic of differentiation. Using RT-PCR we found that the oestrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) isoform was absent in the COLO205 cell line in contrast to CACO-2, LoVo and SW620 cells, but mRNAs for ERbeta1, -beta2, -beta5 and -beta6 isoforms were detected. Western immunoblotting results showed full-length ERbeta protein but no detectable ERalpha in COLO205 cells. In normal human colon tissue samples immunoreactive ERbeta was found but ERalpha was barely detectable. Expression of ERbeta was lost in some colon cancer specimens and reduced in others. We conclude that E(2), through ERbeta, at concentrations found during replacement therapy, may inhibit the development of colon cancer by inducing apoptosis.