Effects of coumestrol on estrogen receptor function and uterine growth in ovariectomized rats

Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Jun;103(6):574-81. doi: 10.1289/ehp.95103574.


Isoflavonoids and related compounds such as coumestrol have classically been categorized as phytoestrogens because these environmentally derived substances bind to the estrogen receptor (ER) and increase uterine wet weight in immature rats and mice. Assessment of the binding affinities of isoflavonoids for ER and subsequent effects on uterine growth suggest these compounds are less active estrogens than estradiol and therefore may reduce the risk of developing breast or prostate cancer in humans by preventing estradiol binding to ER. With the renewed interest in the relationships between environmental estrogens and cancer cause and prevention, we assessed the effects of the phytoestrogen coumestrol on uterotropic response in the immature, ovariectomized rat. Our studies demonstrated that in this animal model, coumestrol is an atypical estrogen that does not stimulate uterine cellular hyperplasia. Although acute (subcutaneous injection) or chronic (multiple injection or orally via drinking water) administration of coumestrol significantly increased uterine wet and dry weights, the phytoestrogen failed to increase uterine DNA content. The lack of true estrogenic activity was characterized by the inability of this phytoestrogen to cause cytosolic ER depletion, nuclear ER accumulation, or the stimulation of nuclear type II sites which characteristically precede estrogenic stimulation of cellular DNA synthesis and proliferation. In fact, subcutaneous or oral coumestrol treatment caused an atypical threefold induction of cytosolic ER without corresponding cytosolic depletion and nuclear accumulation of this receptor, and this increased the sensitivity of the uterus to subsequent stimulation by estradiol.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Coumestrol / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Ovariectomy
  • Ovary / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects*
  • Uterus / drug effects*
  • Uterus / growth & development


  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Coumestrol