Open Access Research article

Molecular conservation of estrogen-response associated with cell cycle regulation, hormonal carcinogenesis and cancer in zebrafish and human cancer cell lines

Siew Hong Lam24, Serene GP Lee1, Chin Y Lin135, Jane S Thomsen1, Pan Y Fu1, Karuturi RK Murthy1, Haixia Li1, Kunde R Govindarajan1, Lin CH Nick1, Guillaume Bourque1, Zhiyuan Gong2, Thomas Lufkin1, Edison T Liu1* and Sinnakaruppan Mathavan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Genome Institute of Singapore, #02-01Genome, 60 Biopolis Street, 138672, Singapore

2 Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, 14 Science Drive 4, 117543, Singapore

3 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University, 753 WIDB, Provo, UT 84602, USA

4 NUS Environmental Research Institute (NERI), TL #02-02, Engineering Drive 1, 117411, Singapore

5 Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, 3013 Science & Engineering Research Center, Houston, TX 77204, USA

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BMC Medical Genomics 2011, 4:41  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-4-41

Published: 16 May 2011



The zebrafish is recognized as a versatile cancer and drug screening model. However, it is not known whether the estrogen-responsive genes and signaling pathways that are involved in estrogen-dependent carcinogenesis and human cancer are operating in zebrafish. In order to determine the potential of zebrafish model for estrogen-related cancer research, we investigated the molecular conservation of estrogen responses operating in both zebrafish and human cancer cell lines.


Microarray experiment was performed on zebrafish exposed to estrogen (17β-estradiol; a classified carcinogen) and an anti-estrogen (ICI 182,780). Zebrafish estrogen-responsive genes sensitive to both estrogen and anti-estrogen were identified and validated using real-time PCR. Human homolog mapping and knowledge-based data mining were performed on zebrafish estrogen responsive genes followed by estrogen receptor binding site analysis and comparative transcriptome analysis with estrogen-responsive human cancer cell lines (MCF7, T47D and Ishikawa).


Our transcriptome analysis captured multiple estrogen-responsive genes and signaling pathways that increased cell proliferation, promoted DNA damage and genome instability, and decreased tumor suppressing effects, suggesting a common mechanism for estrogen-induced carcinogenesis. Comparative analysis revealed a core set of conserved estrogen-responsive genes that demonstrate enrichment of estrogen receptor binding sites and cell cycle signaling pathways. Knowledge-based and network analysis led us to propose that the mechanism involving estrogen-activated estrogen receptor mediated down-regulation of human homolog HES1 followed by up-regulation cell cycle-related genes (human homologs E2F4, CDK2, CCNA, CCNB, CCNE), is highly conserved, and this mechanism may involve novel crosstalk with basal AHR. We also identified mitotic roles of polo-like kinase as a conserved signaling pathway with multiple entry points for estrogen regulation.


The findings demonstrate the use of zebrafish for characterizing estrogen-like environmental carcinogens and anti-estrogen drug screening. From an evolutionary perspective, our findings suggest that estrogen regulation of cell cycle is perhaps one of the earliest forms of steroidal-receptor controlled cellular processes. Our study provides first evidence of molecular conservation of estrogen-responsiveness between zebrafish and human cancer cell lines, hence demonstrating the potential of zebrafish for estrogen-related cancer research.

zebrafish; microarray; estrogen; anti-estrogen ICI 182,780; estrogen-responsive genes; signaling pathways; carcinogenesis; human cancer cell lines; molecular conservation; model organism