Genistein and methoxychlor modulate the activity of natural killer cells and the expression of phenotypic markers by thymocytes and splenocytes in F0 and F1 generations of Sprague-Dawley rats

Toxicology. 2002 Apr 2;172(3):205-15. doi: 10.1016/s0300-483x(02)00005-7.


The isoflavone genistein (GE) and methoxychlor (MXC) have been shown to be estrogenic in both in vitro and in vivo experimental systems. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the effects of GE and MXC on the immune system in adult and developing rats and the potential interaction between these compounds in their immunomodulatory actions. Timely pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to GE (300 or 800 ppm), MXC (800 ppm), or their combinations in feed starting on day 1 of gestation. The offspring were exposed to these chemicals gestationally and lactationally. Immunological evaluation was performed on postnatal day 22. In F0 females, exposure to GE had no effect on the percentages of thymocyte subsets, but caused a significant decrease in the absolute thymus weight at the 800-ppm dose level. In the spleen, GE did not affect the activity of natural killer cells but induced changes in the percentages of splenic T lymphocyte subsets. Exposure to MXC produced no effect on the immune parameters examined except for a decrease in the percentage of CD4+CD8- thymocytes. Additionally, minimal interaction between GE and MXC was observed. In F(1) males, both GE and MXC decreased the percentage of CD4+CD8- thymocytes, but only GE increased spleen natural killer cell activity. MXC in combination with 300 ppm-GE, but not separately, produced significant decreases in the absolute weights of thymus and spleen. In F1 females, GE decreased the percentage of CD4+CD8- thymocytes, increased the percentage of CD4+CD8+ thymocytes, and decreased the activity of spleen natural killer cells. In contrast, MXC increased the percentages of spleen natural killer cells and CD8+ T cells. Overall, the results demonstrate that both GE and MXC can modulate the immune system with greater effects observed in developing rats. Moreover, male and female rats have differential responses to these compounds. A lack of interaction between these two estrogenic chemicals in modulating these immune parameters indicates that their effects on the immune system might involve other mechanisms in addition to the estrogen receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genistein / toxicity*
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / drug effects
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Methoxychlor / toxicity*
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spleen / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Genetic Markers
  • Insecticides
  • Genistein
  • Methoxychlor