Estrogens generated within endocrine organs and the reproductive system act as ligands for at least three types of estrogen receptors. Estrogen receptors α (ERα) and β (ERβ) belong to the so-called classical family of estrogen receptors, whereas the G protein-coupled receptor GPR30, also known as GPER-1, has been described as a novel estrogen receptor sited in the cell membrane of target cells. Furthermore, these receptors are under stimulation of a family of exogenous estrogens, known as phytoestrogens, which are a diverse group of non-steroidal plant compounds derived from plant food consumed by humans and animals. Because phytoestrogens are omnipresent in our daily diet, they are becoming increasingly important in both human health and disease. Recent evidence indicates that in addition to classical estrogen receptors, phytoestrogens also activate GPER-1 a relevant observation since GPER-1 is involved in several physiopathological disorders and especially in estrogen-dependent diseases such as breast cancer.
The first estrogen receptors discovered were the classical ERα and ERβ, but from an evolutionary point of view G protein-coupled receptors trace their origins in history to over a billion years ago suggesting that estrogen receptors like GPER-1 may have been the targets of choice for ancient phytoestrogens and/or estrogens.
This review provides a comprehensive and systematic literature search on phytoestrogens and its relationship with classical estrogen receptors and GPER-1 including its role in breast cancer, an issue still under discussion.