It is known that triphenylethylene anti-oestrogens such as tamoxifen bind to specific high-affinity anti-oestrogen-binding sites, which are distinct from oestrogen receptors. These binding sites are widely distributed in human and animal tissues, but their function and endogenous ligands are unknown. By using [3H]tamoxifen and a rat liver microsomal fraction, a radio-ligand-binding assay was developed in an attempt to identify endogenous ligands for the anti-oestrogen-binding sites in the rat. An ether extract of rat serum inhibited [3H]tamoxifen binding to rat liver binding sites in a dose-dependent manner. Identification of the active serum constituents that inhibited [3H]tamoxifen binding was achieved by g.l.c.-mass spectrometry after preliminary purification of a rat serum extract by silica-gel t.l.c. Three unsaturated fatty acids (oleic, linoleic and arachidonic) accounted for about 50% of the total inhibiting activity of the serum extract. The concentrations of these fatty acids required to inhibit [3H]tamoxifen binding were in the range of 10-100 microM, comparable with those found in the rat circulation under physiological conditions. Saturated fatty acids present in rat serum (palmitic and stearic) did not inhibit [3H]tamoxifen binding. A survey of other fatty acids revealed that, in general, unsaturated fatty acids were far more potent than saturated fatty acids in inhibiting [3H]tamoxifen binding. These studies demonstrate that unsaturated fatty acids are quantitatively the most important circulating inhibitors of [3H]tamoxifen binding to the anti-oestrogen-binding sites. The biological significance of their interaction with these sites, however, remains to be clarified.

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