Impact of soy isoflavones on the epigenome in cancer prevention

Nutrients. 2014 Oct 15;6(10):4218-72. doi: 10.3390/nu6104218.


Isoflavones (IF) such as genistein are cancer preventive phytochemicals found in soy and other legumes. Epidemiological studies point to a reduced risk for hormone‑dependent cancers in populations following a typical Asian diet rich in soy products. IF act as phytoestrogens and prevent tumorigenesis in rodent models by a broad spectrum of bioactivities. During the past 10 years, IF were shown to target all major epigenetic mechanisms regulating gene expression, including DNA methylation, histone modifications controlling chromatin accessibility, and non-coding RNAs. These effects have been suggested to contribute to cancer preventive potential in in vitro and in vivo studies, affecting several key processes such as DNA repair, cell signaling cascades including Wnt-signaling, induction of apoptosis, cell cycle progression, cell proliferation, migration and invasion, epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), metastasis formation and development of drug-resistance. We here summarize the state-of-the-art of IF affecting the epigenome in major hormone-dependent, urogenital, and gastrointestinal tumor types and in in vivo studies on anti-cancer treatment or developmental aspects, and short-term intervention studies in adults. These data, while often requiring replication, suggest that epigenetic gene regulation represents an important novel target of IF and should be taken into consideration when evaluating the cancer preventive potential of IF in humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Repair
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Genistein / pharmacology
  • Glycine max / chemistry*
  • Histones
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology


  • Histones
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Genistein