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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2009 Aug;116(1-2):50-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2009.04.009. Epub 2009 May 3.

Evidence that low-dose, long-term genistein treatment inhibits oestradiol-stimulated growth in MCF-7 cells by down-regulation of the PI3-kinase/Akt signalling pathway.

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  • 1Division of Basic Medical Sciences, St George's University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, United Kingdom.


The reduced incidence of breast cancer in certain Eastern countries has been attributed to high soy diets although this evidence is simply epidemiological. One of the major constituents of soy is genistein, but paradoxically this phytoestrogen binds to oestrogen receptors and stimulates growth at concentrations that would be achieved by a high soy diet, but inhibits growth at high experimental concentrations. To determine the effects of low-dose, long-term genistein exposure we have cultured MCF-7 breast cancer cells in 10 nM genistein for 10-12 weeks and investigated whether or not this long-term genistein treatment (LTGT) altered the expression of oestrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and the activity of the PI3-K/Akt signalling pathway. This is known to be pivotal in the signalling of mitogens such as oestradiol (E(2)), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). LTGT significantly reduced the growth promoting effects of E(2) and increased the dose-dependent growth-inhibitory effect of the PI3-K inhibitor, LY 294002, compared to untreated control MCF-7 cells. This was associated with a significant decreased protein expression of total Akt and phosphorylated Akt but not ERalpha. Rapamycin, an inhibitor of one of the down-stream targets of Akt, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), also dose-dependently inhibited growth but the response to this drug was similar in LTGT and control MCF-7 cells. The protein expression of liver receptor homologue-1 (LRH1), an orphan nuclear receptor implicated in tumourigenesis was not affected by LTGT. The results show that LTGT results in a down-regulation of the PI3-K/Akt signalling pathway and may be a mechanism through which genistein could offer protection against breast cancer.

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