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Isoflavonoids and lignans are diet constituents with chemopreventive properties. We compared the ability of the isoflavonoids genistein and equol, the lignans enterodiol, enterolactone and nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) and the lignan metabolite methyl p-hydroxyphenyllactate to interfere with mitogenic and tumour promotional signal transduction pathways. Their effects on c-fos mRNA levels after induction by either epidermal growth factor (EGF) or the tumour promoting phorbol ester 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) was measured in human breast cancer-derived MDA-MB-468 cells. Of the six agents, only genistein decreased EGF-induced, c-fos transcription (by 63% compared to control at 100 mumol/l). In contrast, both genistein and equol at 100 mumol/l decreased TPA-induced c-fos levels, by 75 and 67%, respectively. NDGA and methyl p-hydroxyphenyllactate did not inhibit TPA mediated c-fos transcription and enterolactone and enterodiol had only a weak inhibitory effect. NDGA at 0.1-10 mumol/l increased c-fos mRNA levels. None of the agents inhibited protein kinase C and only genistein inhibited EGF receptor-linked protein tyrosine kinase obtained from MDA-MB-468 cells, with an IC50 of 60 mumol/l. NDGA and genistein arrested cell colony formation potently, genistein was 15-fold more growth-inhibitory than equol. The results suggest that both genistein and equol interfere similarly with TPA-induced signal transduction pathways. Inhibition by genistein of EGF-induced c-fos mRNA transcription is probably related to its interruption of EGF receptor-linked protein tyrosine kinase, whereas genistein-induced growth arrest is not. If ability to antagonise phorbol ester effects is important for chemopreventive efficacy, equol and genistein might be equi-efficacious chemopreventors, whereas enterolactone, enterodiol and NDGA should be much less potent. If phorbol ester antagonism together with antimitogenic activity determine optimal chemopreventive activity of this type of agent, genistein would be more potent than equol.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Cancer

Publication Date





1425 - 1431


Breast Neoplasms, Carcinogens, Female, Genes, fos, Humans, Isoflavones, Lignans, Masoprocol, Protein Kinase C, Protein-Tyrosine Kinases, RNA, Messenger, RNA, Neoplasm, Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate, Transcription, Genetic, Tumor Cells, Cultured