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Br J Cancer. 1999 Jun;80(8):1150-5.

The two phyto-oestrogens genistein and quercetin exert different effects on oestrogen receptor function.

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Istituto Nazionale per lo Studio e la Cura dei Tumori, Milan, Italy.


We compared the oestrogenic and anti-oestrogenic properties of the two well-known phyto-oestrogens, genistein and quercetin, on the oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer cell line MCF-7. Genistein exerted a biphasic effect on growth of MCF-7 cells, stimulating at low and inhibiting at high concentrations, whereas quercetin was only growth inhibitory. At doses which did not inhibit cell growth, respectively 5 and 1 microM, genistein and quercetin counteracted oestrogen- and transforming growth factor-alpha-promoted cell growth stimulation. Furthermore, genistein promoted transcription of the oestrogen-regulated genes pS2 and cathepsin-D, whereas quercetin interfered with the oestrogen-induced expression of the proteins. In in vitro binding experiments, genistein competed with oestradiol for binding to the oestrogen receptor (ER), but quercetin did not. Quercetin and genistein down-regulated cytoplasmic ER levels and promoted a tighter nuclear association of the ER, but only genistein was able to up-regulate progesterone receptor protein levels. In gel mobility assays, ER preincubation with oestradiol or with the two phyto-oestrogens led to the appearance of the same retarded band, excluding differences between the various complexes in binding to the consensus sequence. The data allowed us to conclude that quercetin acts like a pure anti-oestrogen, whereas genistein displays mixed agonist/antagonist properties, and to formulate a hypothesis on the possible mechanism of action of such phyto-oestrogens.

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