Specific in vitro toxicity of crude and refined petroleum products: 3. Estrogenic responses in mammalian assays

C.M. Vrabie, A. Candido, J.H.J. van den Berg, A.J. Murk, M. van Duursen, M.T.O. Jonker

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Current petroleum risk assessment considers only narcosis as the mode of action, but several studies have demonstrated that oils contain compounds with dioxin-like, estrogenic or antiestrogenic, and androgenic or antiandrogenic activities. The present study is the third in a series investigating the specific toxic effects of 11 crude oils and refined products. By employing recombinant mammalian cells stably transfected with the human estrogen receptor alpha (ERa) or beta (ERß), and expressing the luciferase protein (ERa-U2OS-Luc and ERß-U2OS-Luc assay), the estrogenicity or antiestrogenicity of oils was studied. All oils, except for two refined oils and one crude oil, induced estrogenic responses. The calculated estrogenic potencies of the oils were six to nine orders of magnitude lower than the potency of 17ß-estradiol (E2). Upon coexposure to a fixed concentration of E2 and increasing concentrations of oils, additive, antagonistic, and synergistic effects were revealed. One nautical fuel oil was tested in the human breast carcinoma cell line MCF-7, in which it induced cell proliferation up to 70% relative to the maximal induction by E2. At its minimum effect concentration of 25¿mg/L, the oil was also capable of inducing mRNA expression of the estrogen-dependent protein pS2 by a factor of two. The present results indicate that oils naturally contain potentially endocrine-disrupting compounds that are able to influence the estrogenicity of other compounds and may cause biological responses beyond receptor binding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-980
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • cancer cell-line
  • receptor-mediated responses
  • mcf-7 cells
  • heavy oil
  • er-alpha
  • beta
  • proliferation
  • binding
  • model
  • chemicals

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