The potential estrogenic activity of 8-prenylnaringenin has been investigated using several in vitro test systems. 8-Prenylnaringenin is a natural secondary product of the female blossoms of hops. The aim of the present study was to characterize 8-prenylnaringenin for its estrogenic effects in vivo. A three day uterotrophic assay was carried out on ovariectomized young female rats. A single dose of 8-prenylnaringenin (10 mg/day/kg body mass) was administered subcutaneously. 17beta-Estradiol (0.03 mg/day/kg body mass; subcutaneous administration) was used as a positive control. Uterine wet weight, endometrial and vaginal epithelial height were determined by histological methods. Gene expression in uterus and in liver was assessed using realtime RT-PCR. Both estradiol and 8-prenylnaringenin significantly stimulated uterine wet weight accompanied by a proliferative response. The three day treatment resulted in a statistically significant increase of the uterine epithelial height as well as of the vaginal epithelial height, the latter being the more sensitive parameter. In the uterus of ovariectomized animals estrogen receptor-alpha and clusterin gene expression were down regulated following treatment with estradiol, whereas expression of complement C3 was up-regulated. In response to treatment with 8-prenylnaringenin the same gene expression pattern was detectable, but less pronounced. The levels of estrogen receptor-alpha mRNA in rat liver were very low and therefore could not be quantitatively assessed. Like in the uterine tissue, estradiol down regulated clusterin expression. The response to 8-prenylnaringenin was weaker but still significant. Conversely, 8-prenylnaringenin was found to be more potent than estradiol in inducing expression of IGFBP-1. In summary, the multiparametric assessment of the estrogenic activity of 8-prenylnaringenin provides overwhelming evidence that 8-prenylnaringenin has largely to be regarded as a pure estrogen agonist and is therefore a questionable candidate molecule for hormone replacement therapy.