Prepubertal exposure to zearalenone or genistein reduces mammary tumorigenesis

L. Hilakivi-Clarke, I. Onojafe, M. Raygada, E. Cho, T. Skaar, I. Russo, R. Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


Prepubertal exposure to a pharmacological dose (500 mg kg-1) of the phyto-oestrogen genistein can reduce the incidence and multiplicity of carcinogen-induced mammary tumours in rats. However, such an exposure also disrupts the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, making it unsuitable for breast cancer prevention. We studied whether prepubertal exposure to genistein at a total body dose broadly comparable to the level typical of Oriental countries, approximately 1 mg kg-1 body weight, affects mammary tumorigenesis. We also studied whether prepubertal exposure to zearalenone, a major source for phyto-oestrogens in the USA, influences breast cancer risk. Prepubertal rats were treated between postnatal days 7 and 20, with 20 μg (~ 1 mg kg-1 body weight) of either genistein or zearalenone. Zearalenone exposure significantly reduced both the incidence and multiplicity of mammary tumours induced by 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA). Genistein exposure significantly reduced tumour multiplicity, but not tumour incidence, when compared with vehicle-treated animals. Furthermore, 60% of the tumours in the genistein group were not malignant, while all the tumours analysed for histopathology in the vehicle and zearalenone groups were adenocarcinomas. A higher number of differentiated alveolar buds, and lower number of terminal ducts, were present in the DMBA-treated mammary glands of the phyto-oestrogen exposed rats. The concentration of oestrogen receptor (ER) binding sites after the DMBA treatment was low in the mammary glands of all groups but a significantly higher proportion of the glands in the zearalenone exposed rats were ER-positive (i.e. ER levels ≥ 5 fmol mg-1 protein) than the glands of the vehicle controls. Our data suggest that a prepubertal exposure to a low dose of either zearalenone or genistein may protect the mammary gland from carcinogen-induced malignant transformation, possibly by increasing differentiation of the mammary epithelial tree.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1682-1688
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1999


  • Genistein
  • Mammary tumorigenesis
  • Prepuberty
  • Zearalenone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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