Agonistic and antagonistic estrogens in licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

R. Simons, J.P. Vincken, L.A.M. Mol, S.A.M. The, T.F.H. Bovee, T.J.C. Luijendijk, M.A. Verbruggen, H. Gruppen

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The roots of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) are a rich source of flavonoids, in particular, prenylated flavonoids, such as the isoflavan glabridin and the isoflavene glabrene. Fractionation of an ethyl acetate extract from licorice root by centrifugal partitioning chromatography yielded 51 fractions, which were characterized by liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry and screened for activity in yeast estrogen bioassays. One third of the fractions displayed estrogenic activity towards either one or both estrogen receptors (ERs; ERa and ERß). Glabrene-rich fractions displayed an estrogenic response, predominantly to the ERa. Surprisingly, glabridin did not exert agonistic activity to both ER subtypes. Several fractions displayed higher responses than the maximum response obtained with the reference compound, the natural hormone 17ß-estradiol (E2). The estrogenic activities of all fractions, including this so-called superinduction, were clearly ER-mediated, as the estrogenic response was inhibited by 20–60% by known ER antagonists, and no activity was found in yeast cells that did not express the ERa or ERß subtype. Prolonged exposure of the yeast to the estrogenic fractions that showed superinduction did, contrary to E2, not result in a decrease of the fluorescent response. Therefore, the superinduction was most likely the result of stabilization of the ER, yeast-enhanced green fluorescent protein, or a combination of both. Most fractions displaying superinduction were rich in flavonoids with single prenylation. Glabridin displayed ERa-selective antagonism, similar to the ERa-selective antagonist RU 58668. Whereas glabridin was able to reduce the estrogenic response of E2 by approximately 80% at 6¿×¿10-6 M, glabrene-rich fractions only exhibited agonistic responses, preferentially on ERa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-313
JournalAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • breast-cancer cells
  • antiestrogenic activities
  • receptor-alpha
  • phenolic-compounds
  • in-vitro
  • constituents
  • mcf-7
  • flavonoids
  • tissues
  • protein


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