N-terminal transactivation function, AF-1, of estrogen receptor alpha controls obesity through enhancement of energy expenditure

Yukitomo Arao, Katherine J. Hamilton, Sydney L. Lierz, Kenneth S. Korach

Estrogen Receptor alpha (ERα) is a ligand dependent transcription regulator, and its activity is modulated by estrogenic compounds. Estrogenic compounds bind to the ligand binding domain and control the functionality of the transcriptional activation domains of ERα, named AF-1 and AF-2. Understanding of the precise functions of AF-1 and AF-2 in ERα in metabolic regulation may lead to generation of precise therapeutic interventions for controlling ERα function appropriately in pre- and post-menopausal women. Arao et al. suggest that the specific activation of ERα AF-1 can enhance energy expenditure without changing feeding and locomotion behavior.

Objective: Studies using the estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) knock-out (αERKO) mice have demonstrated that ERα plays a crucial role in various estrogen-mediated metabolic regulations. ERα is a ligand dependent transcription regulator and its activity is regulated by estrogenic compounds. ERα consists of two transcriptional activation domains, AF-1 and AF-2. The activities of these domains are regulated through different mechanisms; however, the specific physiological role in metabolic regulation by these domains is still unclear.

Methods: We utilized an ERα AF-2 mutant knock-in mouse (AF2ERKI) to evaluate the physiological functionality of ERα transactivation domains. Due to the estrogen insensitive AF-2 mutation, the phenotypes of AF2ERKI mice are seemingly identical to the global αERKO including obesity in the females. Distinct from the αERKO, the AF-1 function of AF2ERKI mice can be activated by tamoxifen (Tam). Ovariectomized (OVX) AF2ERKI and WT females were treated with Tam and fed a high-fat diet (HFD) for 10 weeks. Additionally, indirect calorimetric analysis was performed using metabolic chambers with food intake and locomotor activity recorded for Tam-treated AF2ERKI and αERKO females.

Results: Obesity in HFD-fed AF2ERKI females was prevented by Tam treatment; particularly, inguinal fat accumulation was strongly blocked by Tam treatment. Alterations in fat metabolism genes, however, were not found in either inguinal fat nor visceral fat to be Tam-regulated, even though fat accumulation was strongly reduced by Tam treatment. Indirect calorimetric analysis revealed that without alteration of food intake and locomotor activity Tam treatment increased energy expenditure in AF2ERKI but not αERKO females.

Conclusion: These results suggest that the activation of ERα AF-1 prevents fat accumulation. The prevention of obesity through AF-1 is mediated by induction of energy expenditure rather than ERα AF-1 functionality of lipid metabolism gene regulation in fat tissues.