Levels of estradiol 17β-ester hydrolytic activity in the breast cyst fluid (BCF) from 25 different women with fibrocystic disease of the breast were found to vary over a wide range (0–2.4 nmol/min/mg protein for estradiol acetate). On the basis of electrophoretic mobility on agarose gels, the activity from different individuals appeared to be identical. The esterase activity from a single BCF sample was purified to near homogeneity by differential ammonium sulfate precipitation, ion-exchange, and hydrophobic interaction chromatography. Sodium dodecyl sulfatepolyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, after the final purification step, showed two bands with molecular weights of approximately 22,000 and 23,000, neither of which was immunoreactive with a rabbit antibody raised to a crude esterase-free BCF preparation. Esterase activity could be demonstrated after extraction and renaturation of the protein eluted from the Mr 22,000 band. Resolution of the gel, however, was not good enough to rule out the presence of esterase activity in the Mr 23,000 protein. High performance liquid chromatography gel exclusion chromatography indicated a molecular weight of 90,000-95,000 for the esterase activity in crude BCF and approximately 225,000 for the purified activity, suggesting the native protein to be a tetramer which aggregated during purification. Although the natural substrate of the BCF esterase is unknown, the enzyme is able to cleave a variety of esters including acetate, valerate, and stearate esters of estradiol and p-nitrophenyl hexanoate. It is completely inhibited by diisopropylflurophosphate and diethylnitrophenyl phosphate and partially inhibited by NaF and ebelactone. The substrate and inhibitor profile of the enzyme indicates that it is a “B”-type carboxylesterase and not a protease. A comparison of the properties of the BCF esterase with those of esterases from the formed elements of the blood or from plasma suggests that the BCF esterase is not of blood origin and is probably derived from the cyst itself. Physiologically inactive lipoidal estrogens have been shown to be present in many human body fluids and tissues and it is possible that these esters serve as storage forms of the act: hormone in hormonally sensitive tissues where the free steroid could be regenerated by hydrolysis.


Supported in part by Grant CA-02071 from the National Institutes of Health.

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