Estrogens and phytoestrogens: Brain plasticity of sexually dimorphic brain volumes

E. D. Lephart, R. W. Rhees, K. D.R. Setchell, L. H. Bu, T. D. Lund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Sexually dimorphic brain volumes (sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN-POA) and anteroventral periventricular (AVPV) nucleus) are influenced by estrogens. Phytoestrogens, derived from plants (especially soy products), are molecules structurally and functionally similar to estradiol. The purpose of this study was to examine: the consumption of phytoestrogen (using a phytoestrogen-rich (Phyto-600) versus a phytoestrogen-free (Phyto-free)) diets from conception to adulthood (or changing the diets during adulthood) and characterizing (a) circulating plasma phytoestrogen levels, (b) testosterone levels in males, (c) sexually dimorphic brain volumes (i.e. the SDN-POA and AVPV) and (d) the presence of apoptotic cells in these brain structures in Long-Evans rats. Phyto-600 fed animals displayed total serum phytoestrogens levels 37-fold higher compared to Phyto-free values. Circulating testosterone levels were not significantly altered by the diets. Female SDN-POA volumes were not altered by the diets. Whereas, males fed a Phyto-free diet displayed decreased SDN-POA volumes compared to male Phyto-600 values. Females fed the Phyto-600 diet displayed larger AVPV volumes compared to males on the same diet or females on the Phyto-free diet. Males fed the Phyto-free diet had the largest AVPV values compared to Phyto-600 fed males. When the SDN-POA region was examined in lifelong Phyto-free fed males, apoptotic cells were present versus males fed the Phyto-600 diet and in the AVPV region the opposite results were obtained. In summary, consumption of dietary phytoestrogens (estrogen mimics) can alter hormone-sensitive hypothalamic brain volumes in rodents during adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-309
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number2-5
StatePublished - Jun 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by grants from The United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, 2002-00798 (EDL), the BYU Research Office 21-223566 (EDL) and The Dean’s Graduate Fellowship in Neuroscience (TDL and LHB). T.D. Lund’s present address: Anatomy and Neurobiology, W103 Anatomy/Zoology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523.


  • AVPV
  • Hormones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Rat
  • Soy


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