Diets containing the soya-derived phytoestrogens, genistein and daidzein, decrease plasma cholesterol in humans and experimental animals. The mechanisms responsible for the hypocholesterolaemic effects of these isoflavones are unknown. The present study was conducted to determine if genistein and daidzein regulate hepatocyte cholesterol metabolism and apolipoprotein (apo) B secretion in cultured human hepatoma (HepG2) cells. ApoB secretion was decreased dose-dependently by up to 63% and 71% by genistein and daidzein (100μM; P<0.0001) respectively. In contrast, no effect on apoAI secretion was observed. Cellular cholesterol synthesis was inhibited 41% by genistein (100μM; P<0.005) and 18% by daidzein (100μM; P<0.05), which was associated with significant increases in 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase mRNA. Cellular cholesterol esterification was decreased 56% by genistein (100μM; P<0.04) and 29% by daidzein (100μM; P<0.04); however, mRNA levels for acyl-CoA:cholesterol acyltransferase (ACAT) 1 and ACAT2 were unaffected. At 100μM, both isoflavones equally inhibited the activities of both forms of ACAT in cells transfected with either ACAT1 or ACAT2. Genistein (100μM) and daidzein (100μM) significantly decreased the activity of microsomal triacylglycerol transfer protein (MTP) by 30% and 24% respectively, and significantly decreased MTP mRNA levels by 35% and 55%. Both isoflavones increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-receptor mRNA levels by 3- to 6-fold (100μM; P<0.03) and significantly increased the binding, uptake and degradation of 125I-labelled LDL, suggesting that enhanced reuptake of newly secreted apoB-containing lipoproteins contributed to the net decrease in apoB secretion. These results indicate that genistein and daidzein inhibit hepatocyte apoB secretion through several mechanisms, including inhibition of cholesterol synthesis and esterification, inhibition of MTP activity and expression and increased expression of the LDL-receptor.

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