Cells 11 (19) - [2022-09-27; online 2022-09-27]
The widespread environmental contaminant di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) has been linked with reduced testosterone levels and adverse reproductive health outcomes in men. However, the underlying mechanisms of these anti-androgenic effects and the potential effects on other classes of steroid hormones remain to be elucidated. Here, we conducted mechanistic studies in human adrenocortical H295R cells exposed to 1-500 µM of DBP or its metabolite, mono-n-butyl phthalate (MBP), for 48 h. Quantification of steroid hormones in the cell medium by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed that both phthalates significantly decreased testosterone, androstenedione, corticosterone, and progesterone levels, in particular after dibutyryl-cyclic-AMP stimulation of steroidogenesis. Western blot analysis of key steroidogenic proteins showed that DBP induced a dose-dependent decrease of CYP11A1 and HSD3β2 levels, while MBP only significantly decreased CYP17A1 levels, indicating that the compounds affect early steps of the steroidogenesis differently. Both DBP and MBP exposure also lead to a dose-related decrease in HSD17β3, the enzyme which catalyzes the final step in the testosterone biosynthesis pathway, although these effects were not statistically significant. Interestingly, DBP increased the cortisol concentration, which may be due to the non-significant CYP11B1 increase in DBP-exposed cells. In contrast, MBP decreased cortisol concentration. Moreover, the analysis of superoxide generation and quantification of the protein oxidation marker nitrotyrosine demonstrated that DBP induced oxidative stress in H295R cells while MBP reduced protein nitrotyrosine levels. These findings confirm the anti-androgenic effects of DBP and MBP and reveal several differences in their toxicological mechanisms, with possible implications for future research on phthalate toxicity.