Neuroprotective and neurotrophic efficacy of phytoestrogens in cultured hippocampal neurons

Lixia Zhao, Qi Chen, Roberta Diaz Brinton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


Epidemiological data from retrospective and case-control studies have indicated that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) can decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In addition, ERT has been found to promote cellular correlates of memory and to promote neuronal survival both in vivo and in vitro. Phytoestrogens have been proposed as potential alternatives to ERT. To determine whether phytoestrogens exert estrogen agonist effect in neural tissue, investigations of neuroprotective and neurotrophic efficacy of phytoestrogens were conducted. Six phytoestrogens, genistein, genistin, daidzein, daidzin, formononetin, and equol, were tested for their neuroprotective efficacy against two toxic insults, glutamate excitotoxicity and β-amyloid25-35. Neuronal membrane damage was quantitatively measured by lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, and neuronal mitochondrial viability was determined by 3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromid (MTT) assay. Results of these studies demonstrated that all phytoestrogens induced a modest but significant reduction in LDH release following exposure to glutamate and β-amyloid25-35. In contrast, none of phytoestrogens induced a significant increase in reduced MTT levels, which occurred in the presence of a full estrogen agonist, 17β-estradiol. Analysis of the neurotrophic potential of genistein and daidzein, two phytoestrogens that exerted a significant reduction in LDH release, demonstrated that neither of these molecules promoted hippocampal neuron process outgrowth. Results of these analyses indicate that although phytoestrogens exert a neuroprotective effect at the plasma membrane, they do not sustain neuron mitochondrial viability nor do they induce cellular correlates of memory as neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis are putative mechanisms of memory. Data derived from these investigations would predict that phytoestrogens could exert some neuroprotective effects analogous to that of antioxidants, but that these molecules are not functional equivalents to endogenously active 17β-estradiol or to estrogen replacement formulations and, therefore, would raise the concern that they may not reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease or sustain memory function in postmenopausal women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)509-519
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Daidzein
  • Daidzin
  • Equol
  • Formononetin
  • Genistein
  • Genistin
  • LDH
  • MTT
  • Neuroprotection
  • Neurotrophism
  • Phytoestrogens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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