Tamoxifen is a nonsteroidal agent that binds to estrogen receptors (ER), inducing a conformational change in the receptor. This results in a blockage or change in the expression of estrogen dependent genes. The prolonged binding of tamoxifen to the nuclear chromatin of these results in reduced DNA polymerase activity, impaired thymidine utilization, blockade of estradiol uptake, and decreased estrogen response. It is likely that tamoxifen interacts with other coactivators or corepressors in the tissue and binds with different estrogen receptors, ER-alpha or ER-beta, producing both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects.
Tamoxifen belongs to a class of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects. Tamoxifen has the same nucleus as diethylstilbestrol but possesses an additional side chain (trans isomer) which accounts for its antiestrogenic activity.
Signs observed at the highest doses following studies to determine LD50 in animals were respiratory difficulties and convulsions.