Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Cheryl L. Walker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Hursting, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Committee Member

Mark Bedford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rick Wood, Ph.D.


Environmental exposures during sensitive windows of development can reprogram normal physiological responses and alter disease susceptibility later in life in a process known as developmental reprogramming. We have shown that neonatal exposure to the xenoestrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) can developmentally reprogram the reproductive tract in genetically susceptible Eker rats giving rise to complete penetrance of uterine leiomyoma. Based on this, we hypothesized that xenoestrogens, including genistein (GEN) and bisphenol A (BPA), reprogram estrogen-responsive gene expression in the myometrium and promote the development of uterine leiomyoma. We proposed the mechanism that is responsible for the developmental reprogramming of gene expression was through estrogen (E2)/ xenoestrogen inducedrapid ER signaling, which modifies the histone methyltransferase Enhancer of Zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) via activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway. We further hypothesized that there is a xenostrogen-specific effect on this pathway altering patterns of histone modification, DNA methylation and gene expression. In addition to our novel finding that E2/DES-induced phosphorylation of EZH2 by AKT reduces the levels of H3K27me3 in vitro and in vivo, this work demonstrates in vivo that a brief neonatal exposure to GEN, in contrast to BPA, activates the PI3K/AKT pathway to regulate EZH2 and decreases H3K27me3 levels in the neonatal uterus. Given that H3K27me3 is a repressive mark that has been shown to result in DNA methylation and gene silencing we investigated the methylation of developmentally reprogrammed genes. In support of this evidence, we show that neonatal DES exposure in comparison to VEH, leads to hypomethylation of the promoter of a developmentally reprogrammed gene, Gria2, that become hyper-responsive to estrogen in the adult myometrium indicating vi that DES exposure alter gene expression via chromatin remodeling and loss of DNA methylation. In the adult uterus, GEN and BPA exposure developmentally reprogrammed expression of estrogen-responsive genes in a manner opposite of one another, correlating with our previous data. Furthermore, the ability of GEN and BPA to developmental reprogram gene expression correlated with tumor incidence and multiplicity. These data show that xenoestrogens have unique effects on the activation of non-genomic signaling in the developing uterus that promotes epigenetic and genetic alterations, which are predictive of developmental reprogramming and correlate with their ability to modulate hormone-dependent tumor development.


Xenoestrogens, developmental reprogramming, uterine leiomyoma, epigenetics, non-genomic signaling, estrogen receptor



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