The soy isoflavone genistein induces estrogen synthesis in an extragonadal pathway

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009 Apr 10;302(1):73-80. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2009.01.003. Epub 2009 Jan 20.


Genistein is a phytoestrogen isolated from soyabean, and is a potential nutraceutical gearing for women suffering from perimenopausal symptoms. Because of its differential binding affinity to estrogen receptor (ER) isoforms, genistein is described as a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM). The ligand-receptor interaction is established, but the potential confounding factors have not been fully addressed. Alteration in estrogen metabolism is an important issue when determining the downstream effect of ER. Aromatase or CYP19 catalyzes the rate-limiting reaction of estrogen synthesis, and is highly expressed in the ovary. This organ is the source of estrogen in females. After menopause the ovaries cease to produce the hormone, and localized estrogen synthesis in extragonadal tissues could become physiologically significant. In the present study, effect of genistein on CYP19 regulation was investigated in the hepatic cells HepG2. The phytoestrogen induced aromatase activity in the cells. Increased mRNA expression with concurrent elevation in the usage of promoters I.3/II was also demonstrated. Luciferase reporter gene assays verified the transcriptional control dictated by the specific promoters under genistein treatment. Several protein kinases were examined, and PKC?, P38, ERK-1/2 appeared to be activated. Subsequent inhibition and expression experiments demonstrated the involvement of these kinases. The transcriptional factor CREB was ultimately activated in the gene regulation. The present study illustrated an extragonadal pathway by which genistein might increase estrogen synthesis.

MeSH terms

  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Genistein / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / cytology
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction
  • Soybeans / chemistry*


  • Estrogens
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Genistein
  • Aromatase