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New sensors streamline detection of estrogenic compounds
Date:8/25/2011

CHAMPAIGN, lll. Researchers have engineered new sensors that fluoresce in the presence of compounds that interact with estrogen receptors in human cells. The sensors detect natural or human-made substances that alter estrogenic signaling in the body.

The study appears in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Estrogen occurs naturally in the body (in the form of 17-beta-estradiol), and a variety of plants (such as soybeans), pharmaceuticals, microbial byproducts and industrial chemicals (such as bisphenol A, in plastics) are also known to activate or block the activation of estrogen receptors in human cells.

"There are so many estrogenic compounds in our environment, and some of them could be a danger to health," said University of Illinois chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Huimin Zhao, who led the research. Zhao also is an affiliate of the chemistry and biochemistry departments, the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology, and the Institute for Genomic Biology, all at Illinois. "We are concerned about estrogenic compounds because they interact with the estrogen receptor, which plays an important role in many important biological processes, like reproduction, bone growth, cell differentiation and metabolism."

The estrogen receptor is also implicated in a majority of breast cancers, he said, with compounds that activate it potentially spurring the growth of cancer cells.

The researchers used part of the estrogen receptor itself in the design of their new sensors. They took the region of the receptor that binds to estrogenic compounds (called the "ligand-binding domain
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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