Uterine Patterning, Endometrial Gland Development, and Implantation Failure in Mice Exposed Neonatally to Genistein

Environ Health Perspect. 2020 Mar;128(3):37001. doi: 10.1289/EHP6336. Epub 2020 Mar 18.


Background: Embryo implantation relies on precise hormonal regulation, associated gene expression changes, and appropriate female reproductive tract tissue architecture. Female mice exposed neonatally to the phytoestrogen genistein (GEN) at doses similar to those in infants consuming soy-based infant formulas are infertile due in part to uterine implantation defects.

Objectives: Our goal was to determine the mechanisms by which neonatal GEN exposure causes implantation defects.

Methods: Female mice were exposed to GEN on postnatal days (PND)1-5 and uterine tissues collected on PND5, PND22-26, and during pregnancy. Analysis of tissue weights, morphology, and gene expression was performed using standard histology, confocal imaging with three-dimensional analysis, real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (real-time RT-PCR), and microarrays. The response of ovariectomized adults to 17β-estradiol (E2) and artificial decidualization were measured. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) injections were given intraperitoneally and implantation sites visualized. Gene expression patterns were compared with curated data sets to identify upstream regulators.

Results: GEN-exposed mice exhibited reduced uterine weight gain in response to E2 treatment or artificial decidualization compared with controls; however, expression of select hormone responsive genes remained similar between the two groups. Uteri from pregnant GEN-exposed mice were posteriorized and had reduced glandular epithelium. Implantation failure was not rescued by LIF administration. Microarray analysis of GEN-exposed uteri during early pregnancy revealed significant overlap with several conditional uterine knockout mouse models, including Foxa2, Wnt4, and Sox17. These models exhibit reduced endometrial glands, features of posteriorization and implantation failure. Expression of Foxa2, Wnt4, and Sox17, as well as genes important for neonatal uterine differentiation (Wnt7a, Hoxa10, and Msx2), were severely disrupted on PND5 in GEN-exposed mice.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that neonatal GEN exposure in mice disrupts expression of genes important for uterine development, causing posteriorization and diminished gland function during pregnancy that contribute to implantation failure. These findings could have implications for women who consumed soy-based formulas as infants. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP6336.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo Implantation / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Genistein / adverse effects*
  • Mice
  • Phytoestrogens / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Uterus / drug effects*
  • Uterus / growth & development
  • Uterus / physiopathology


  • Phytoestrogens
  • Genistein