Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Cancer and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Proliferative and anti-proliferative effects of dietary levels of phytoestrogens in rat pituitary GH3/B6/F10 cells - the involvement of rapidly activated kinases and caspases

Yow-Jiun Jeng and Cheryl S Watson*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2009, 9:334  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-334

Published: 18 September 2009



Phytoestogens are a group of lipophillic plant compounds that can have estrogenic effects in animals; both tumorigenic and anti-tumorigenic effects have been reported. Prolactin-secreting adenomas are the most prevalent form of pituitary tumors in humans and have been linked to estrogen exposures. We examined the proliferative effects of phytoestrogens on a rat pituitary tumor cell line, GH3/B6/F10, originally subcloned from GH3 cells based on its ability to express high levels of the membrane estrogen receptor-α.


We measured the proliferative effects of these phytoestrogens using crystal violet staining, the activation of several mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and their downstream targets via a quantitative plate immunoassay, and caspase enzymatic activities.


Four phytoestrogens (coumestrol, daidzein, genistein, and trans-resveratrol) were studied over wide concentration ranges. Except trans-resveratrol, all phytoestrogens increased GH3/B6/F10 cell proliferation at some concentration relevant to dietary levels. All four phytoestrogens attenuated the proliferative effects of estradiol when administered simultaneously. All phytoestrogens elicited MAPK and downstream target activations, but with time course patterns that often differed from that of estradiol and each other. Using selective antagonists, we determined that MAPKs play a role in the ability of these phytoestrogens to elicit these responses. In addition, except for trans-resveratrol, a serum removal-induced extrinsic apoptotic pathway was blocked by these phytoestrogens.


Phytoestrogens can block physiological estrogen-induced tumor cell growth in vitro and can also stimulate growth at high dietary concentrations in the absence of endogenous estrogens; these actions are correlated with slightly different signaling response patterns. Consumption of these compounds should be considered in strategies to control endocrine tumor cell growth, such as in the pituitary.