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Hormonal Action of Plant Derived and Anthropogenic Non-Steroidal Estrogenic Compounds: Phytoestrogens and Xenoestrogens

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Herbivorous and omnivorous vertebrates have evolved in the presence of a variety of phytoestrogens, i.e., plant-derived compounds that can mimic, modulate or disrupt the actions of endogenous estrogens. Since the discovery of the estrus-inducing effects of some plant products in 1926, considerable effort has been devoted to the isolation and structural and pharmacological characterization of phytoestrogens. Recently, agricultural and industrial pollution has added anthropogenic estrogenic compounds to the list of environmental estrogens. Unlike phytoestrogens, these xenoestrogens tend to accumulate and persist in adipose tissue for decades and may cause long-lasting, adverse endocrine effects.

Here we review the endocrine effects of known phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens with special emphasis on molecular structure-activity relationships. Phytoestrogens include flavonoids, isoflavonoids, chalcons, coumestans, stilbenes, lignans, ginsenosides and other saponins, as well as the recently discovered tetrahydrofurandiols. Fungal estrogenic compounds may enter the food chain via infested crops. Since some phytoestrogens have been shown to display organ-specific actions, pharmaceutical estrogen analogues with similar properties (selective estrogen receptor modulators, SERMs) are also discussed. Xenoestrogens include dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its metabolites, bisphenols, alkylphenols, dichlorophenols, methoxychlor, chlordecone, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins. While most of these compounds act through estrogen receptors alpha and beta, some of their effects may be mediated by other nuclear or membrane-bound receptors or receptor-independent mechanisms. Some might also interfere with the production and metabolism of ovarian estrogens.

Better understanding of the molecular pharmacology of phyto- and xenoestrogens may result in the development of novel compounds with therapeutic utility and improved environmental protection.

Keywords: (selective estrogen receptor modulators, SERMs); 3'-Hydroxyflavanone; 6-Hydroxyflavanone; Angolensin; Apigenin (0.028); Benzopyrans; Biochanin A; Daidzein; Equol; Fisetin; Flavonoids; Formononetin; Genistein; Genistin; Glycitein; Hesperetin; Kaempferol; Naringenin; Naringin; Phytoestrogens; Prunetin; Quercetin; SERM; Spirocompounds; Triarylpyrazoles; Xenoestrogens; chalcons; coumestans; dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT); dichlorophenols; endocrine disruption (ED); endocrine disruptors; environmental protection; estrogen; estrogen receptors; flavonoids; ginsenosides; isoflavonoids; methoxychlor; persistent organic pollutants; phytoestrogen; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); polyphenols; receptors; saponins; stilbenes; xenoestrogen

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Pathophysiology and Gerontology, University of Pecs, Medical School Hungary, H-7624 Pecs, Szigeti u. 12, Hungary.

Publication date: October 1, 2010

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.

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