Estrogen-like activity of licorice root constituents: glabridin and glabrene, in vascular tissues in vitro and in vivo

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2004 Jul;91(3):147-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2004.04.003.


Post-menopausal women have higher incidence of heart diseases compared to pre-menopausal women, suggesting a protective role for estrogen. The recently Women's Health Initiative (WHI) randomized controlled trial concluded that the overall heart risk exceeded benefits from use of combined estrogen and progestin as hormone replacement therapy for an average of five years among healthy postmenopausal US women. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new agents with tissue-selective activity with no deleterious effects. In the present study, we tested the effects on vascular tissues in vitro and in vivo of two natural compounds derived from licorice root: glabridin, the major isoflavan, and glabrene, an isoflavene, both demonstrated estrogen-like activities. Similar to estradiol-17beta (E2), glabridin (gla) stimulated DNA synthesis in human endothelial cells (ECV-304; E304) and had a bi-phasic effect on proliferation of human vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). Raloxifene inhibited gla as well as E2 activities. In animal studies, both intact females or after ovariectomy, gla similar to E2 stimulated the specific activity of creatine kinase (CK) in aorta (Ao) and in left ventricle of the heart (Lv). Glabrene (glb), on the other hand, had only the stimulatory effect on DNA synthesis in vascular cells, with no inhibition by raloxifene, suggesting a different mechanism of action. To further elucidate the mechanism of action of glb, cells were pre-incubated with glb and then exposed to either E2 or to gla; the DNA stimulation at low doses was unchanged but there was abolishment of the inhibition of VSMC cell proliferation at high doses as well as inhibition of CK stimulation by both E2 and by gla. We conclude that glb behaved differently than E2 or gla, but similarly to raloxifene, being a partial agonist/antagonist of E2. Glabridin, on the other hand, demonstrated only estrogenic activity. Therefore, we suggest the use of glb with or without E2 as a new agent for modulation of vascular injury and atherogenesis for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases in post-menopausal women.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcitriol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Creatine Kinase / metabolism
  • DNA Replication / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / enzymology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Glycyrrhiza / chemistry*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Isoflavones / isolation & purification
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Ovariectomy
  • Phenols / isolation & purification
  • Phenols / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots / chemistry*
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / pharmacology


  • CB 1093
  • Estrogens
  • Isoflavones
  • Phenols
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride
  • glabrene
  • Creatine Kinase
  • Calcitriol
  • glabridin