Stress (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) and pain response in male rats exposed lifelong to high vs. low phytoestrogen diets

Edwin D. Lephart, Edwardo Galindo, Li Hong Bu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Estrogens exhibit complex but beneficial effects on brain structure, function and behavior. Soy-derived dietary phytoestrogens protect against hormone-dependent and age-related diseases, due to their estrogen-like hormonal actions. However, the effects of phytoestrogens on brain and behavior are relatively unknown. This study examined the influence of exposing male Long-Evans rats (lifelong) to either a phytoestrogen-rich (Phyto-600) or a phytoestrogen-free (Phyto-free) diet on body weights, behavioral pain thresholds, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal stress response, hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor and brain neural cell adhesion molecules (NCAM) and synaptophysin levels using standard behavioral and biochemical techniques. Body weights were significantly decreased in Phyto-600 fed animals compared to Phyto-free values. There were no significant changes in behavioral pain thresholds, circulating corticosterone concentrations (after acute immobilization stress) or NCAM and synaptophysin levels in various brain regions by the diet treatments. However, Phyto-600 fed males displayed significantly higher plasma adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH) (post-stress) and hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor levels vs. Phyto-free values. These data suggest that (1) body weights are significantly reduced by soy-derived phytoestrogens, (2) behavioral pain thresholds (via heat stimuli) are not influenced by dietary phytoestrogens, but (3) these estrogenic molecules in the hippocampus enhance glucocorticoid receptor abundance and alter the negative feedback of stress hormones towards a female-like pattern of higher ACTH release after activation of the HPA stress axis. This study is the first to show that lifelong consumption of dietary phytoestrogens alters the HPA stress response in male rats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-68
Number of pages4
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 15 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by grants from the USDA (2002-00798; EDL), the BYU Research Office (21-223566; EDL), NSF (DBI-9912126; EG) and The BYU Dean's Graduate Fellowship in Neuroscience (LHB).


  • Adrenocorticotrophin
  • Brain
  • Neural cell adhesion molecules
  • Pain
  • Rat
  • Soy
  • Stress
  • Synaptophysin

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