Open Access Open Badges Research article

Cell proliferation and apoptosis in rat mammary glands following combinational exposure to bisphenol A and genistein

Jun Wang1*, Sarah Jenkins1 and Coral A Lamartiniere12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA

2 UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:379  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-379

Published: 29 May 2014



Humans are exposed to an array of both harmful and beneficial hormonally active compounds in the environment and through diet. Two such chemicals are Bisphenol A (BPA), a plasticizer, and genistein, a component of soy. Prepubertal exposure to BPA increased mammary carcinogenesis, while genistein suppressed cancer in a chemically-induced model of rodent mammary cancer. The purpose of this research was to determine the effects of combinational exposure to genistein and BPA on cell proliferation, apoptosis, and associated proteins as markers of cancer in mammary glands of rats exposed prepubertally to these environmental chemicals.


Prepubertal rats (postpartum days (PND) 2–20) were exposed through lactation via nursing dams treated orally with sesame oil (SO), BPA, genistein, or a combination of BPA and genistein (BPA + Gen). Cell proliferation, apoptosis and protein expressions were investigated for mechanistic studies in mammary glands of rats exposed to these environmental chemicals.


Prepubertal exposure to genistein increased cell proliferation in mammary glands of PND21 rats, while BPA increased cell proliferation in adult (PND50) rats. Prepubertal combinational exposure to BPA + Gen increased cell proliferation and reduced apoptosis in PND21 rats, but reduced cell proliferation and increased apoptosis in PND50 rats. The altered mechanisms behind these cellular responses appear to be centered on differential protein expression of caspases, PARP, Bad, p21, Akts, PTEN, ER-β and SRCs 1–3, in the rat mammary gland.


Prepubertal BPA exposure resulted in increased cell proliferation in mammary glands of PND50 rats, a process associated with increased risk of cancer development in a chemically-induced mammary cancer. On the other hand, genistein stimulated cell proliferation at PND21, a process that correlates with mammary gland maturation and chemoprevention. In contrast to single chemical exposure, combinational exposure to BPA + Gen performed most similarly to genistein exposure alone. BPA + Gen increased cell proliferation at PND21, suggesting mammary gland maturation, and decreased cell proliferation while increasing apoptosis in PND50 rats, suggesting mammary chemoprevention. Differential expression of proteins involved in regulating cell proliferation and apoptosis lend support to these chemicals, both alone and in combination, altering mammary gland cancer susceptibility.

Bisphenol A; Genistein; Proliferation; Apoptosis; Mammary cancer