Acetaminophen-induced proliferation of breast cancer cells involves estrogen receptors

Eugenia Harnagea-Theophilus, Samantha L. Gadd, April H. Knight-Trent, George L. DeGeorge, Michael R. Miller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that acetaminophen, a common analgesic/antipyretic, induces proliferation of cultured breast cancer cells containing both estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER+/PR+). The main objective of this study was to evaluate the involvement of ERs in this effect. First, the effects of therapeutic acetaminophen concentrations were compared in breast cancer cells with high ERs and in T47Dco cells with lower ERs, to determine if acetaminophen-induced proliferation depends on ER levels. Second, the effects of two antiestrogens (ICI 182,780 and 4'- hydroxytamoxifen) on acetaminophen-induced proliferation were determined in three human breast cancer cell lines: two ER+/PR+ (MCF7, T47D) and one ER- /PR- (MDA-MB-231). Third, ER binding assays were performed in MCF7 cells to determine if acetaminophen competed with estradiol for binding to ERs. Proliferation endpoints monitored included percent cells in the DNA synthesis phase of the cell cycle, 3H-thymidine incorporation into DNA, and cell number. Acetaminophen did not induce DNA synthesis in T47Dco cells, but did in cells with higher ER levels, suggesting high ER levels are necessary for acetaminophen to induce proliferation. Antiestrogens inhibited acetaminophen- induced proliferation in ER+/PR+ cells while no effects were observed in ER- /PR- cells, further supporting ER involvement. However, acetaminophen did not compete with estradiol for binding to ERs in ER+/PR+ cells. Collectively, these data suggest that acetaminophen induces breast cancer cell proliferation via ERs without binding to ERs like estradiol. The second purpose of this study was to determine if acetaminophen is estrogenic/antiestrogenic in vivo (uterotrophic assays). Acetaminophen has no antiestrogenic/estrogenic activity in mice or rats uteri.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-279
Number of pages7
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 1999


  • Acetaminophen
  • Antiestrogens
  • Breast cancer cells
  • Proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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