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J Urol. 2011 May;185(5):1894-8. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2010.12.095. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Molecular effects of genistein on male urethral development.

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Department of Urology, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.



The increasing incidence of hypospadias is partly attributed to increased gestational exposure to endocrine disruptors. We investigated the effects of genistein, the primary phytoestrogen in soy, on the molecular program of male urethral development.


Female mice were fed diets supplemented with genistein (500 mg/kg diet) or control diets before breeding and throughout gestation. Urethras from embryonic day 17.5 male fetuses were harvested, and RNA was prepared, amplified, labeled and hybridized on whole genome microarrays. Data were analyzed using packages from the R/Bioconductor project. Immunohistochemical analysis and immunoblotting were used to confirm the activity of MAPK and the presence of Ntrk1 and Ntrk2 during urethral development.


Gestational exposure to genistein altered the urethral expression of 277 genes (p <0.008). Among the most affected were hormonally regulated genes, including IGFBP-1, Kap and Rhox5. Differentially expressed genes were grouped into functional pathways of cell proliferation, adhesion, apoptosis and tube morphogenesis (p <0.0001), and were enriched for members of the MAPK (p <0.00001) and TGF-β (p <0.01) signaling cascades. Differentially expressed genes preferentially contained ELK1, Myc/Max, FOXO, HOX and ER control elements. The MAPK pathway was active, and its upstream genistein affected tyrosine kinase receptors Ntrk1 and Ntrk2 were present in the developing male urethra.


Gestational exposure to genistein contributes to hypospadias by altering pathways of tissue morphogenesis, cell proliferation and cell survival. In particular, genes in the MAPK and TGF-β signaling pathways and those controlled by FOXO, HOX and ER transcription factors are disrupted.

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