Sulfation of the isoflavones genistein and daidzein in human and rat liver and gastrointestinal tract

J Med Food. 2006 Fall;9(3):348-55. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2006.9.348.


Phytoestrogens, in particular the isoflavone aglycones genistein and daidzein, are thought to be the bioactive components of soy. Like estrogens, isoflavones can be sulfur-conjugated. However, although isoflavones in the serum are found largely in the form of glucuronide and sulfur conjugates following soy consumption, little is known regarding the relative contributions of sulfotransferases in the liver and small intestine to isoflavone sulfation. Since the sulfates may be deconjugated in target tissues, circulating isoflavone sulfates may act as a source of tissue aglycones. In the current study genistein and daidzein sulfotransferase activities were measured in cytosol from human and rat liver and gastrointestinal tract. Isoflavone sulfation in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract was correlated with activities towards substrates for previously characterized human sulfotransferases. Western blots of human cytosols were also conducted using antisera towards human sulfotransferases SULT1E1 and SULT2A1. Whereas rat liver was almost fourfold more active than small intestine in sulfation of genistein, in the human, activities in the two tissues were comparable. In contrast, intestinal sulfation of daidzein was comparable to hepatic sulfation in the rat and significantly greater in the human. Genistein and daidzein sulfation occurred throughout the human GI tract, but with a different distribution and different interindividual variability. Whereas genistein sulfation in the human GI tract correlated significantly with sulfation of the prototypical human phenolic sulfotransferase SULT1A family substrate 2-naphthol (r2 = 0.71), daidzein sulfotransferase activity did not correlate with activities towards any prototypical sulfotransferase substrate or with genistein sulfation. Our results suggest that metabolism in the human GI tract has an important role in the generation of potentially bioactive isoflavone sulfates and a major role for the human phenolic sulfotransferase SULT1A family in metabolism of genistein in the gut. However, human intestinal daidzein sulfation appears to be catalyzed by a separate enzyme.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Genistein / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / metabolism*
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naphthols / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sulfates / metabolism*
  • Sulfotransferases / analysis


  • Isoflavones
  • Naphthols
  • Sulfates
  • daidzein
  • Genistein
  • Sulfotransferases
  • alcohol sulfotransferase
  • estrone sulfotransferase
  • 2-naphthol