Despite the major advances in developing diagnostic techniques and effective treatments, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD) is still the leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide. While considerable progress has been achieved to identify gene variations and environmental factors that contribute to CVD, much less is known about the role of “gene–environment interactions” in predisposing individuals to CVD. Our chemical environment has significantly changed in the last few decades, and there are more than 100,000 synthetic chemicals in the market. Recent large-scale human population studies have associated exposure to certain chemicals including many endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with increased CVD risk, and animal studies have also confirmed that some EDCs can cause aberrant lipid homeostasis and increase atherosclerosis. However, the underlying mechanisms of how exposure to those EDCs influences CVD risk remain elusive. Numerous EDCs can activate the nuclear receptor pregnane X receptor (PXR) that functions as a xenobiotic sensor to regulate host xenobiotic metabolism. Recent studies have demonstrated the novel functions of PXR in lipid homeostasis and atherosclerosis. In addition to directly regulating transcription, PXR has been implicated in the epigenetic regulation of gene transcription. Exposure to many EDCs can also induce epigenetic modifications, but little is known about how the changes relate to the onset or progression of CVD. In this review, we will discuss recent research on PXR and EDCs in the context of CVD and propose that PXR may play a previously unrealized role in EDC-mediated epigenetic modifications that affect lipid homeostasis and atherosclerosis.

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Published in Environmental Epigenetics, v. 3, issue 4, p. 1-15.

© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

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This work was supported by NIH grants (R01ES023470, R01HL123358, R01HL131925, and R21ES022745) to C.Z.; R.N.H. was supported by an NIH training grant (T32DK007778), a PhRMA Foundation predoctoral fellowship, and an AHA postdoctoral fellowship (17POST32850000).