Mechanism of inhibition of estrogen biosynthesis by azole fungicides.

PMID 25243857


Biosynthesis of estrogens from androgens is catalyzed by cytochrome P450 aromatase. Aromatase inhibition by the triazole compounds letrozole (LTZ) and anastrozole is a prevalent therapy for estrogen-dependent postmenopausal breast cancer. Azoles are widely used as agricultural fungicides and antimycotic drugs that target 14α-demethylase. Some were previously shown to inhibit aromatase, thereby raising the possibility of endocrine disruptive effects. However, mechanistic analysis of their inhibition has never been undertaken. We have evaluated the inhibitory effects of 3 common fungicides, bifonazole, imazalil, and flusilazole, in human aromatase purified from placenta and compared them with LTZ, the most potent inhibitor of aromatase. Bifonazole exhibits strong inhibitory effects with an IC50 of 270nM and Ki (Michaeles-Menten inhibition constant) of 68nM, compared with 10nM and 13nM, respectively, for LTZ. The IC50 and Ki are 1100nM and 278nM for imazilil and 3200nM and 547nM for flusilazole, respectively. Analyses of inhibition kinetics suggest that the modes of inhibition by azole fungicides are mixed or competitive, whereas LTZ inhibition could be noncompetitive or mixed. We interpret the inhibition mechanism in the context of the x-ray structure of aromatase-androstenedione complex. Structural data show that aromatase has 3 binding pockets in relation to the heme. The substrate-binding cavity at the heme-distal site closely compliments the structures of the natural substrate, androstenedione, and steroidal aromatase inhibitors. Because the structures of LTZ and the azole fungicides are entirely dissimilar to the androstenedione backbone, the azoles possibly inhibit by binding to a structurally rearranged active site, the 2 other catalytically important sites, or both, in agreement with the kinetics data.

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