Coumestrol induces oxidative stress and impairs migration and embryonic growth

Reproduction. 2023 May 15;166(1):1-11. doi: 10.1530/REP-23-0017. Print 2023 Jul 1.


In brief: Healthy development of the placenta is dependent on trophoblast cell migration and reduced oxidative stress presence. This article describes how a phytoestrogen found in spinach and soy causes impaired placental development during pregnancy.

Abstract: Although vegetarianism has grown in popularity, especially among pregnant women, the effects of phytoestrogens in placentation lack understanding. Factors such as cellular oxidative stress and hypoxia and external factors including cigarette smoke, phytoestrogens, and dietary supplements can regulate placental development. The isoflavone phytoestrogen coumestrol was identified in spinach and soy and was found to not cross the fetal-placental barrier. Since coumestrol could be a valuable supplement or potent toxin during pregnancy, we sought to examine its role in trophoblast cell function and placentation in murine pregnancy. After treating trophoblast cells (HTR8/SVneo) with coumestrol and performing an RNA microarray, we determined 3079 genes were significantly changed with the top differentially changed pathways related to the oxidative stress response, cell cycle regulation, cell migration, and angiogenesis. Upon treatment with coumestrol, trophoblast cells exhibited reduced migration and proliferation. Additionally, we observed increased reactive oxygen species accumulation with coumestrol administration. We then examined the role of coumestrol within an in vivo pregnancy by treating wildtype pregnant mice with coumestrol or vehicle from day 0 to 12.5 of gestation. Upon euthanasia, fetal and placental weights were significantly decreased in coumestrol-treated animals with the placenta exhibiting a proportional decrease with no obvious changes in morphology. Therefore, we conclude that coumestrol impairs trophoblast cell migration and proliferation, causes accumulation of reactive oxygen species, and reduces fetal and placental weights in murine pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Coumestrol* / metabolism
  • Coumestrol* / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology
  • Placenta* / metabolism
  • Placentation / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism


  • Coumestrol
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Reactive Oxygen Species