Gene expression profiling of 17β-estradiol and genistein effects on mouse thymus

Vimal Selvaraj, David Bunick, Carrol Finnigan-Bunick, Rodney W. Johnson, Huixia Wang, Lei Liu, Paul S. Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Estrogen regulates thymic development and involution and modulates immune function. Despite its critical role in thymus, as well as in autoimmune disorders, the mechanism by which estrogen affects the thymus is not well understood. We previously reported that the estrogenic soy isoflavone genistein, as well as 17β-estradiol (E2), could induce thymic involution, but genistein effects were only partially mediated through estrogen receptors. To provide insights into mechanisms of estrogenic effects in the thymus, we investigated thymic gene expression changes induced by E2 (125 ng/day) and genistein (1500 ppm in feed) in weanling mice using high-density DNA arrays. We identified several E2-responsive genes involved in thymic development and thymocyte signaling during selection and maturation. Functional characterization indicated effects on genes involved in transcription, apoptosis, and the cell cycle. This study also identified changes in several E2-regulated transcripts essential to maintain immune self-tolerance. E2 upregulated more genes than genistein, while genistein downregulated more genes than E2. Though each treatment regulated several genes not altered by the other, there was considerable overlap in the genes regulated by E2 and genistein. Changes in transcription factors and cell cycle factors were consistent with decreases in cell proliferation induced by both genistein and E2. As indicated by the regulation of non-E2-responsive genes, genistein also induced unique effects through non-estrogenic mechanisms. The specific downregulation of the CD4 coreceptor transcript by genistein was consistent with the decline of CD4+ thymocytes in genistein-treated mice in our previous study. This is the first study identifying E2 and genistein target genes in the thymus. These findings provide new mechanistic insights toward explaining estrogen action on thymocyte development, selection, and maturation, as well as the effects of genistein on prenatal and neonatal thymic development and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-112
Number of pages16
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Autoimmunity
  • Estrogen
  • Immune system
  • Phytoestrogen
  • Soy
  • T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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