We have demonstrated that the isoflavone, genistein, stimulates growth of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer (MCF-7) cells in vivo (C. Y. Hsieh et al., Cancer Res., 58: 3833-3838, 1998). The isoflavones are a group of phytoestrogens that are present in high concentrations in soy. Whether consumption of genistein from soy protein will have similar effects on estrogen-dependent tumor growth as pure genistein has not been investigated in the athymic mouse tumor implant model. Depending on processing, soy protein isolates vary widely in concentrations of genistein. We hypothesize that soy isolates containing different concentrations of genistein will stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent cells in vivo in a dose-dependent manner. To test this hypothesis we conducted experiments in which these soy protein isolates were fed to athymic mice implanted s.c. with estrogen-dependent tumors. Genistein content (aglycone equivalent) of the soy isolate diets were 15, 150, or 300 ppm. Positive (with 17beta-estradiol pellet implant) and negative (no 17beta-estradiol) control groups received casein-based (isoflavone-free) diets. Tumor size was measured weekly. At completion of the study animals were killed and tumors collected for evaluation of cellular proliferation and estrogen-dependent gene expression. Incorporation of bromodeoxyuridine into cellular DNA was used as an indicator of cell proliferation, and pS2 mRNA was used as an estrogen-responsive gene. Soy protein diets containing varying amounts of genistein increased estrogen-dependent tumor growth in a dose-dependent manner. Cell proliferation was greatest in tumors of animals given estrogen or dietary genistein (150 and 300 ppm). Expression of pS2 was increased in tumors from animals consuming dietary genistein (150 and 300 ppm). Here we present new information that soy protein isolates containing increasing concentrations of genistein stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells in vivo in a dose-dependent manner.