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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2004;546:121-65.

Anticancer therapeutic potential of soy isoflavone, genistein.

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  • 1Laboratory of Glycoimmunotherapy, John Wayne Cancer Institute, 2200 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404-2302, USA.


Genistein (4'5, 7-trihydroxyisoflavone) occurs as a glycoside (genistin) in the plant family Leguminosae, which includes the soybean (Glycine max). A significant correlation between the serum/plasma level of genistein and the incidence of gender-based cancers in Asian, European and American populations suggests that genistein may reduce the risk of tumor formation. Other evidence includes the mechanism of action of genistein in normal and cancer cells. Genistein inhibits protein tyrosine kinase (PTK), which is involved in phosphorylation of tyrosyl residues of membrane-bound receptors leading to signal transduction, and it inhibits topoisomerase II, which participates in DNA replication, transcription and repair. By blocking the activities of PTK, topoisomerase II and matrix metalloprotein (MMP9) and by down-regulating the expression of about 11 genes, including that of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), genistein can arrest cell growth and proliferation, cell cycle at G2/M, invasion and angiogenesis. Furthermore, genistein can alter the expression of gangliosides and other carbohydrate antigens to facilitate their immune recognition. Genistein acts synergistically with drugs such as tamoxifen, cisplatin, 1,3-bis 2-chloroethyl-1-nitrosourea (BCNU), dexamethasone, daunorubicin and tiazofurin, and with bioflavonoid food supplements such as quercetin, green-tea catechins and black-tea thearubigins. Genistein can augment the efficacy of radiation for breast and prostate carcinomas. Because it increases melanin production and tyrosinase activity, genistein can protect melanocytes of the skin of Caucasians from UV-B radiation-induced melanoma. Genistein-induced antigenic alteration has the potential for improving active specific immunotherapy of melanoma and carcinomas. When conjugated to B43 monoclonal antibody, genistein becomes a tool for passive immunotherapy to target B-lineage leukemias that overexpress the target antigen CD19. Genistein is also conjugated to recombinant EGF to target cancers overexpressing the EGF receptor. Although genistein has many potentially therapeutic actions against cancer, its biphasic bioactivity (inhibitory at high concentrations and activating at low concentrations) requires caution in determining therapeutic doses of genistein alone or in combination with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or immunotherapies. Of the more than 4500 genistein studies in peer-reviewed primary publications, almost one fifth pertain to its antitumor capabilities and more than 400 describe its mechanism of action in normal and malignant human and animal cells, animal models, in vitro experiments, or phase I/II clinical trials. Several biotechnological firms in Japan, Australia and in the United States (e.g., Nutrilite) manufacture genistein as a natural supplement under quality controlled and assured conditions.

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