Resveratrol has beneficial effects on aging, inflammation and metabolism, which are thought to result from activation of the lysine deacetylase, sirtuin 1 (SIRT1), the cAMP pathway, or AMP-activated protein kinase. In this study, we report that resveratrol acts as a pathway-selective estrogen receptor-α (ERα) ligand to modulate the inflammatory response but not cell proliferation. A crystal structure of the ERα ligand-binding domain (LBD) as a complex with resveratrol revealed a unique perturbation of the coactivator-binding surface, consistent with an altered coregulator recruitment profile. Gene expression analyses revealed significant overlap of TNFα genes modulated by resveratrol and estradiol. Furthermore, the ability of resveratrol to suppress interleukin-6 transcription was shown to require ERα and several ERα coregulators, suggesting that ERα functions as a primary conduit for resveratrol activity.
Resveratrol is a compound found in significant quantities in red wine, grapes, and peanuts. Many health benefits have been linked to it, including protecting against certain types of cancer and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. How resveratrol could produce these very different effects is unknown, but evidence is emerging that it is involved in a wide range of biological processes.
However, the ability of resveratrol to bind with, and activate, proteins called estrogen receptors has largely been overlooked. These receptors have a range of roles. For example, estrogen receptors fight against inflammation by preventing the transcription of the gene that encodes a signaling protein called interleukin-6. However, estrogen receptors do not work alone: other molecules called coregulators interact with them and alter how effectively they can prevent gene expression.
Resveratrol has also been associated with anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in tissues that contain large numbers of an estrogen receptor called ERα, though this connection has been little studied. Nwachukwu et al. now reveal that the two are linked—the anti-inflammatory response of resveratrol relies on it being bound to ERα. This binding changes the shape of the receptor in a way that controls which coregulator molecules help it to regulate transcription. Additionally, this binding complex does not produce the cancer-causing side effects often associated with activated ERα. Nwachukwu et al. also found that the effect of resveratrol on the inflammatory response depends on specific other coregulators being present.
The role of ERα in enhancing and activating resveratrol's effects is important because resveratrol has poor bioavailability in humans, and so it is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream. This makes it difficult for someone to get a dose high enough to produce beneficial effects. Further research targeting ERα may produce similar beneficial compounds to resveratrol, but with improved bioavailability.