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Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2018 May;243(8):695-707. doi: 10.1177/1535370218771333.

EB 2017 Article: Soy protein isolate feeding does not result in reproductive toxicity in the pre-pubertal rat testis.

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1 Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans, LA 70112, USA.
2 Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA.
3 Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA.
4 Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock, AR, 72202, USA.


The isoflavone phytoestrogens found in the soy protein isolate used in soy infant formulas have been shown to have estrogenic actions in the developing male reproductive tract resulting in reproductive toxicity. However, few studies have examined potential estrogenicity of soy protein isolate as opposed to that of pure isoflavones. In this study, we fed weanling male Sprague-Dawley rats a semi-purified diet with casein or soy protein isolate as the sole protein source from postnatal day 21 to 33. Additional groups were fed casein or soy protein isolate and treated s.c. with 10 µg/kg/d estradiol via osmotic minipump. Estradiol treatment reduced testis, prostate weights, and serum androgen concentrations ( P < 0.05). Soy protein isolate had no effect. Estradiol up-regulated 489 and down-regulated 1237 testicular genes >1.5-fold ( P < 0.05). In contrast, soy protein isolate only significantly up-regulated expression of 162 genes and down-regulated 16 genes. The top 30 soy protein isolate-up-regulated genes shared 93% concordance with estradiol up-regulated genes. There was little overlap between soy protein isolate down-regulated genes and those down-regulated by estradiol treatment. Functional annotation analysis revealed significant differences in testicular biological processes affected by estradiol or soy protein isolate. Estradiol had major actions on genes involved in reproductive processes including down-regulation of testicular steroid synthesis and expression of steroid receptor activated receptor (Star) and cytochrome P450 17α-hydroxylase/(Cyp17a1). In contrast, soy protein isolate primarily affected pathways associated with macromolecule modifications including ubiquitination and histone methylation. Our results indicate that rather than acting as a weak estrogen in the developing testis, soy protein isolate appears to act as a selective estrogen receptor modulator with little effect on reproductive processes. Impact statement Soy protein isolate (SPI) is the sole protein used to make soy-based infant formulas. SPI contains phytoestrogens, which are structurally similar to estradiol. These phytoestrogens, daidzein, genistein, and equol, fit the definition of endocrine-disrupting compounds, and at high concentrations, have estrogenic actions resulting in reproductive toxicity in the developing male, when provided as isolated chemicals. However, few animal studies have examined the potential estrogenicity of SPI as opposed to pure isoflavones. In this study, SPI feeding did not elicit an estrogenic response in the testis nor any adverse outcomes including reduced testicular growth, or androgen production during early development in rats when compared to those receiving estradiol. These findings are consistent with emerging data showing no differences in reproductive development in males and female children that received breast milk, cow's milk formula, or soy infant formula during the postnatal feeding period.


Soy protein isolate; estrogenicity; isoflavones; reproductive toxicity; testes


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