Epidemiological evidence indicates that phytoestrogens inhibit cancer formation and growth, reduce cholesterol levels, and show benefits in treating osteoporosis. At least some of these activities are mediated through the interaction of phytoestrogens with estrogen receptors alpha and beta (ERalpha and ERbeta). Resveratrol, trans-3,5,4'-trihydroxystilbene, is a phytoestrogen in grapes that is present in red wine. Resveratrol was shown to bind ER in cytosolic extracts from MCF-7 and rat uteri. However, the contribution of ERalpha vs. ERbeta in this binding is unknown. Here we report that resveratrol binds ERbeta and ERalpha with comparable affinity, but with 7,000-fold lower affinity than estradiol (E2). Thus, resveratrol differs from other phytoestrogens that bind ERbeta with higher affinity than ERalpha. Resveratrol acts as an estrogen agonist and stimulates ERE-driven reporter gene activity in CHO-K1 cells expressing either ERalpha or ERbeta. The estrogen agonist activity of resveratrol depends on the ERE sequence and the type of ER. Resveratrol-liganded ERbeta has higher transcriptional activity than E2-liganded ERbeta at a single palindromic ERE. This indicates that those tissues that uniquely express ERbeta or that express higher levels of ERbeta than ERalpha may be more sensitive to resveratrol's estrogen agonist activity. For the natural, imperfect EREs from the human c-fos, pS2, and progesterone receptor (PR) genes, resveratrol shows activity comparable to that induced by E2. We report that resveratrol exhibits E2 antagonist activity for ERalpha with select EREs. In contrast, resveratrol shows no E2 antagonist activity with ERbeta. These data indicate that resveratrol differentially affects the transcriptional activity of ERalpha and ERbeta in an ERE sequence-dependent manner.