The biological processes modulated by isoflavones, and especially by genistein, have been extensively studied, yet without leading to a clear understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of action involved.
This review discusses the existing gaps in our knowledge and evaluates the potential of the new nutrigenomic approaches to improve the study of the molecular effects of isoflavones.
Several issues need to be taken into account for the proper interpretation of the results already published for isoflavones.
Too often knowledge on isoflavone bioavailability is not taken into account; supra-physiological doses are frequently used.
Characterization of the individual variability as defined by the gut microflora composition and gene polymorphisms may also help to explain the discrepancies observed so far in the clinical studies. Finally, the complex inter-relations existing between tissues and cell types as well as cross-talks between metabolic and signalling pathways have been insufficiently considered.
By appraising critically the abundant literature with these considerations in mind, the mechanisms of action that are the more likely to play a role in the preventive effects of isoflavones towards breast and prostate cancers are reviewed. Furthermore, the new perspectives opened by the use of genetic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic approaches are highlighted.