Estrogenic terpenes and terpenoids: Pathways, functions and applications

Eur J Pharmacol. 2017 Nov 15;815:405-415. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2017.09.049. Epub 2017 Sep 29.


Terpenes are made of the isoprene unit (C5), and along with their derivatives, terpenoids, they are widely distributed in plants as active ingredients involved in anti-inflammation, anti-carcinogenesis and neuroprotection. Estrogenic terpenes and terpenoids are an important category of phytoestrogens and have been used as traditional medicines. The comprehensive list of estrogenic terpenes and terpenoids includes hemi-, mono-, sesqui-, di-, tri-, tetra- and polyterpenes, their derivatives, and meroterpenes, along with the signaling pathways and cellular functions on which their estrogenicity is exerted. Signaling pathways are further classified as bidirectional or unidirectional, the latter being further divided into two types depending upon the presence of both ligands, or the absence of one or both ligands. Although estrogenic activity of terpenes and terpenoids was evaluated by ligand-binding assays, yeast two-hybrid assays, reporter-gene assays, transcription assays, protein assays, cell assays and animal testing, the mechanism of estrogenic activity is still not fully understood. Applications of estrogenic terpenes and terpenoids are categorized into cancer treatment and prevention, cardioprotection, endocrine toxicity/reproductive dysfunction, food/supplement/traditional medicine, immunology/inflammation, menopausal syndromes and neuroprotection, where their benefits are discussed based on their availability, stability and variations.

Keywords: Estrogen assays; Estrogenicity; Pathway analysis; Phytoestrogen; Receptor crosstalk; Signal transduction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estrogens / chemistry
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Terpenes / chemistry
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*


  • Estrogens
  • Terpenes