There is considerable interest in the role(s) of plant-derived compounds such as bioflavonoids in regulating steroid hormone action in mammals, and in particular, the possible effects of the bioflavonoids on the growth of steroid-dependent breast and prostate tumors and on possible abnormal development of steroid-sensitive tissues. Studies of the hormone-like actions of bioflavonoids often use fetal or neonatal rats, which contain high levels of serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), a protein that binds estradiol with a Kd approximately 5 x 10(-9) M. Interaction of bioflavonoids with AFP could affect the availability of estrogens to estrogen-responsive cells, as well as the actions of bioflavonoids. These considerations motivated us to study the effect of several flavonoids (quercetin, rutin, naringenin, chrysin, apigenin, kaempferol, myricetin, morin, fisetin) and isoflavonoids (daidzein, genistein) on estrogen binding to rat AFP. We found that naringenin, a flavanone, and quercetin and kaempferol, flavonols, inhibit estrogen binding to AFP with apparent Kds of about 5 x 10(-7) M. To our surprise, the two isoflavonoids, daidzein and genistein, have Kds of about 5 x 10(-6) M for AFP. This 10-fold [correction of 1Q-fold] difference in affinity for AFP between flavonoids and isoflavonoids suggests that AFP has a specificity for the flavonoid structure. Moreover, the affinities of bioflavonoids for rat AFP are sufficiently high to suggest that flavonoids and isoflavonoids could modulate estradiol and estrone binding to rat AFP in vivo, when present at dietary levels. Additionally, the potency of the plant estrogens may be altered by binding to AFP. The flavonoids that we tested have different hydroxyl and glucoside substituents on the A, B, and C rings, which allows us to define some of the spatial requirements for binding to AFP. We find that 5,7-hydroxyl groups in ring A and a 4'-hydroxyl group in ring B are important for binding to AFP. This information, combined with molecular modeling studies, may elucidate the molecular basis for recognition of flavonoids and estrogens by AFP. Also, these findings indicate that the flavonoid levels in the diet need to be considered in studies of the effects of various xenobiotics and endocrine manipulations on experimental animals, particularly during development when serum estrogen binding protein concentrations are often elevated. Finally, bioflavonoids should be useful tools for understanding the variety of estrogen actions initiated by different structural classes of estrogens.
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