The pyrethroid metabolites 3-phenoxybenzoic acid and 3-phenoxybenzyl alcohol do not exhibit estrogenic activity in the MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cell line or Sprague–Dawley rats Academic Article uri icon


  • Synthetic pyrethroids are one of the most frequently and widely used class of insecticides, primarily because they have a higher insect to mammalian toxicity ratio than organochlorines or organophosphates. The basic structure of pyrethroids can be characterized as an acid joined to an alcohol by an ester bond. Pyrethroid degradation occurs through either oxidation at one or more sites located in the alcohol or acid moieties or hydrolysis at the central ester bond, the latter reaction being important for mammalian metabolism of most pyrethroids. The primary alcohol liberated from the ester cleavage is hydroxylated to 3-phenoxybenzyl alcohol, which for most pyrethroids is then oxidized to 3-phenoxybenzoic acid. These products may then be conjugated with amino acids, sulfates, sugars, or sugar acids. In vitro studies have suggested that some of the pyrethroids may have estrogenic activity. Interestingly, the chemical structure of specific pyrethroid metabolites indicates that they may be more likely to interact with the estrogen receptor than the parent compounds. Two of the pyrethroid metabolites, 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3PBA) and 3-phenoxybenzyl alcohol (3PBalc) have been reported to have endocrine activity using a yeast based assay. 3PBAlc exhibited estrogenic activity with reported EC(50)s of 6.67 x 10(-6) and 2 x 10(-5) while 3PBAcid exhibited anti-estrogenic activity with a calculated IC(50) of 6.5 x 10(-5). To determine if the metabolites were able to cause the same effects in a mammalian system, the estrogen-dependent cell line, MCF-7, was utilized. Cells were treated with 1.0, 10.0 or 100.0 microM concentrations of each metabolite and cytotoxicity was assessed. The two lowest concentrations of both metabolites did not induce cell death and even appeared to increase proliferation over that of the control cells. However, when cellular proliferation was measured using a Coulter counter neither metabolite stimulated proliferation (1.0 nM, 10.0 nM, or 10.0 microM) or induced an estrogen receptor alpha/ERE-controlled luciferase reporter in the MCF-7 cells. Following the in vitro screenings, the metabolites were then evaluated for estrogenic activity in vivo using the uterotrophic assay in Sprague-Dawley rats. Animals were orally gavaged (10.0, 5.0, and 1.0 mg/kg) once daily for 3 days. Neither metabolite had any effect on uterine wet weight, body weight, or organ weight. Lastly, in order to determine if either metabolite was able to alter the onset of puberty, immature female rats were orally gavaged (10.0, 5.0, and 1.0 mg/kg) once a day with the metabolites beginning 1 day post-weaning until the onset of puberty as evidenced by vaginal opening (VO). Again, neither metabolite had any effect on the onset of VO.

author list (cited authors)

  • Laffin, B., Chavez, M., & Pine, M.

citation count

  • 45

complete list of authors

  • Laffin, Brian||Chavez, Marco||Pine, Michelle

publication date

  • October 2009